Everyone calls me a photographer. You might just as well too. That is, I think you should. Inside me, I'm not always sure. When I was young and searching for a career, searching for what I wanted to do with my life, I knew I wanted to become a photographer. I knew I could trust what I saw in the viewfinder. If I tell you my story, maybe you can tell me if I got what I wanted.
The table linen in the oak paneled dining room was bright white. I was twelve and it was summer. I cradled the 126 Instamatic in my hands, believing then that it was far more fragile than me. Rocking slowly back and forth, close and far, I watched the antique basket I had set out to photograph become larger and smaller with each comforting swell. The world became so simple and distilled as I squinted into the viewfinder that day. The sharp boundaries of the frame cleanly demarcated that scary real from my comfortable imaginary world. The sharp black edges acted as cleavers; chopping away in one simple motion all that was tragic and messy in my life. The subject, like me, was isolated from the general tumult of the household. The basket hovered on a peaceful ground of white. As if willed by the spare, clean background of the photograph, the blather of my parent's incessant arguing quickly faded into a soft white noise. As I entered the viewfinder, I recall knowing that, as long as I alone held the camera, it was I who determined what would be photographed. It was I who would decide what this picture would look like.
I never saw that photograph. It was on a roll of film which sat with at least eight more on the far corner of my parent's writing desk. I can remember posing for pictures at each holiday we celebrated. I can remember asking my parents about getting pictures from the spent black cartridges and being told that no, it would cost too much money. Perhaps some time later. When I left home to seek a life, at least another half dozen more rolls had accumulated in that corner. The newer ones were the smaller 110 size cartridges. While we had obviously obtained a new camera, and continued to expose film at all of the appropriate times, the cartridge captured images remained anchored to the desk's corner.
Since my first real look inside a viewfinder that day, I've learned that technically, that particular picture was totally impossible. If it had been developed, it would have looked like some crazy off-center, orange tinged ball of mush. But it was an important picture for me. Because it showed me the way to my insides. And it showed me the way away from home.