(shared with me, published with permission)
My Dad was a photojournalist, one of the original run-and-gunners, reporting from two wars, shooting rangefinders.
When he left that job he set up a very successful high-end portrait studio, shooting medium format, doing incredible work. He often traveled, bringing back volumes of photographs from Asia, Africa, Central America….he never got to Australia, but who knows, maybe someday, he’s only 82!
He loved photography his whole life, but he admitted to me, when I was still in college, that the spark had kind of gone out of it for him. Right about then, digital cameras came along, and he was re-bitten by the bug. And just about when that was wearing off, he took up digital editing, and that bought him a couple more years of interest.
I think he finally quit carrying his camera somewhere around 2005 or 6. I was getting back into photography myself, but he said that for him, he was just kind of spinning wheels, shooting the same things the same way over and over, and he wasn’t sad about it, but as a hobby, for him, it was just over.
He took up watching TV.
I came across a book last year that really turned my thinking around about photography, and it was so different from what I’d learned in school, and from other books, and even from my Dad, that I thought, just maybe, it might shake something loose in him.
So I gave him a copy for Christmas. He appreciated the thought, but I really got the idea he’d never read it.
But I was wrong.
About a week later, I saw him going out the back door with his camera. I got excited for him. But it got better. I went from window to window in the house, trying to spot him, and he’d vanished! So my curiosity got the better of me, and I snooped out the door after him.
There he was, laying on the ground, taking a picture of a mushroom. When I came up beside him he was gushing “You see how the curving top of the mushroom from this angle gets contrasted against the straight lines of the landscape fencing? Of course I’m having to shoot at f22 and I hope my shot doesn’t get too gritty, but maybe if I make it black and white I won’t mind the grain….”
And his gush didn’t end there. He talked about that mushroom, and explained about 7 different ways to shoot it, for 20 minutes. He was 81 then, and about 10 years old at the same time.
That was 10 months ago. He hasn’t left the house without his camera one time since then. Many times to the mild annoyance of my Mom. He’s shot thousands of pictures, and printed and framed dozens, taking over the basement like it’s his personal art gallery. He obsesses over having exactly the right track lighting for each new “wing” in his installation.
And he’s never, ever, without that book.
And he shoots in the rain, the snow, the wind. He was 81, but when the weather changes, good or bad, he grabs his camera bag and goes out the door. And wherever he’s shooting, he usually finds time to sit down and read a little from that book. Or he doodles in it, or scribbles notes. Actually, the book got to be kind of a wreck.
So with his 82nd birthday approaching, I knew exactly what to do. I found the author of the book online, and told him the story. I showed him some of Dad’s photos. We chatted quite a bit. I was hoping to maybe buy a hardcover version, but there wasn’t one available. Instead, the author sent me another copy of the book. This one was signed, but more importantly, at the back, he had hand-written a new story, called “The Magician,” something he said would be in a book he was publishing next year. This meant that Dad would be the first to read it.
This book my Dad loves is not big. And it’s not at all what most people would expect, and it’s absolutely the best darned book on photography you can ever pick up. My Dad and the author now chat and exchange pictures and ideas, and I think that linking him with this new friend was probably the best possible present you can give an 82 year old little kid.
Charles and his daughter are OBVIOUSLY two of my favorite readers. He’s still shooting every day, at 84.