It's Christmas morning, I'm 5 years old and I'm being blinded by a spot light. My eyes are watering and I'm trying not to blink so as not to disappoint my father by ruining his photograph. We're standing next to mother, my sister and I, waiting for him to finish fussing with the tripod and the light- waiting for him to finish fiddling with the settings or the timer and I fidget with the dress I am in. It's Mums camera a Yashica Lynx 5000E that she had bought for herself in her younger days of travel. Frustrated, or perhaps sensing ours, she gets up from her chair and goes to help him - calculating our distance from the camera and setting the lens.
"Can i push the button?" I ask.
"No" one of them sighs.
And that is how it all began. The pint size rebel in me who didn't like that word - my fate was determined there and then. I would push that button, I would take a photograph.
It's Christmas Day. I'm 7 years old and we're in Nova Scotia where we've travelled to spend the holidays with family. We're in our special Christmas clothes and have been warned very sternly, my sister and I, not to touch anything and to be on our best behaviour. We are visiting the home of close family friends of my Grandmother. There are no kids to play with here and everything is fancy. I am bored but then a camera comes out. This isn't just any camera though, its a Polaroid and I'd never seen one before. We take turns posing in different groups but I have a knot in my stomach because I have to figure out how to get what I want and not anger Mum. The grown ups hand the camera around with ease and we all marvel at the magic of this instant gratification so far ahead of it's time. I am waiting for my mother to be just far enough out of earshot as I sidle up to Renee- who by the way had no idea she was about to become a victim in my grand master plan.
"Can I take a picture Renee?" I ask, my voice as sweet as the remnants of that gross old fashioned hard candy from the dish on her coffee table- that are still stuck in my molars.
"Of course you can!" and she handed over the camera without hesitation. It was heavy and bulky in my little hands but I did it and I was so proud.
The following year, for Christmas, I received my very own camera a Kodak that took 110 film and had a built in flash.
Brandy Cat was my favourite subject for more rolls of film then I am sure my parents loved to have developed- but I didn't care. Nothing could beat the feeling of getting that envelope full of photos - reaching inside, negatives cast away and then it was always the same for me- a quick run through of the stack and then again slower and later slower still pouring over each image and it's details. Those photo lab people didn't know it but they were my first photography teachers. Sometimes- a thin envelope with no photos and little comments from the photo lab- "film exposed" or "blurry". These great losses of Brandy catching snowflakes or sleeping on my bed were my first lessons into this world of magic. It's not ok to open the door to look at the film before it's finished or how important it was to keep my hands steady.
In high school, fashion magazines changed my ideal subjects from pets into people but I could never figure out why my plastic neon orange camera wouldn't capture the people in my frames in quite the same way as they caught Nikki Taylor as she posed for YM magazine on the beaches of Florida- I was intrigued but knew nothing of lenses and lighting. I shot friends, recording the memories of our first drinks and parties and once in a while my beautiful sister would stand for me for a "photo shoot" mimicking poses I had seen the models doing and sometimes creating a back story for added drama.
In journalism school I took my first real photography class. I was bored to tears by all the jargon and history. My father had allowed me the use of his camera which was a dream come true. It was a Minolta something or other and I was sure I looked like a real photographer with my fancy camera bag and several lenses to switch around. The real magic for me was on the other side of that revolving dark room door. Like a time-machine portal to curiosity, here was the creative outlet I had been waiting for. It all felt very important and serious a wonderful mix of science and art which spoke to my personality in great perfection. The challenge of getting that film out of it's casing and into the chemical bath without exposing it. The glow of the red light, the tongs with the rubber tips, the smell...
Developing images into a final product is still by far my favourite part of the process. It is my time to be the creative I never truly explored and to have full disclosure on how the image will look and be presented. I don't know of anything else I focus so fully on. Over the years I have swapped out my subjects from animals for people for travel and nature, for live music and surfing and I have yet to find my niche. Do I have to choose? I have heard that if you don't choose one thing, one subject and focus on it completely- become an expert in that one thing then you will never be successful. I think the not-so pint sized rebel in me says: "meh- we got this".