My Photographer Beginnings

When I was a child of about ten with a big brother away serving in the Air Force in the vastness of worlds unknown to me, I dreamed of having a camera of my own. I’d seen such wonderful photographs in Mrs. Guthrie’s NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazines in her classroom at school, and I wanted to do that — travel the world taking intriguing photographs of people and places and things. Even though I had no money, I knew I didn’t want one of those mundane little brownies I’d seen in the homes of my friends and extended family either. I wanted one I’d seen who knows where, a folding camera similar to the one here. Nothing less would do to accomplish my dream of being a great photographer, and — being the determined type — I turned to my brother in the big world “out there” for help.

There was not a camera like that to be had in the small town closest to where I lived — at least as far as I knew — but my brother found one in Wyoming that he thought might work quite well. So during the summertime I worked and saved all the money I could from helping in neighbor’s tobacco harvests. I saved about $30, my take-home for the entire summer period that began in May and ended just as school was beginning in early September. I sent him my money and the next time he came home on leave, he brought me my beautiful Ansco folding camera that is probably a collector’s item now, and I’m so sorry I don’t have it anymore. In actuality it didn’t do anything more than a simple and cheap Brownie box model would have, but boy did it look impressive! As and when I was able to overcome the additional problem of finding money to buy film rolls, I made many, many photographs documenting the years that followed.

This is the mule I rode bareback by enticing him with Spanish moss (he was gullible enough to eat anything!) to sidle up alongside the wooden fence, so that I could climb the fence and hop over onto his back. I didn’t need a bridle either, as I could embed my fingers into his  mane well enough to ride him around the lot. If he was outside the confines of his lot, it was imperative that he be bridled and saddled, because he was prone to run like a wild stallion straight towards the  highway about half a mile away.

Though not exactly NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC quality, this is a snapshot of the brother (about 19 at the time and home on leave from the Air Force who found and bought the camera for me) trying to “drive” Old Jack backwards. Old Jack was notorious for his stubborness, and to get him to turn away from the lot fence if it wasn’t his idea was practically impossible. For those who may not know these things, a mule is the male offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. Females of the ilk, called “hinnys” or “jennies,” are from a female donkey and male horse. Both are usually, though not always, sterile. There! Probably more than you ever wanted to know but you know it now all the same!

Over the years I photographed many moments of life in the country with that dinky but pretty looking camera, many of which have survived and need desperately to be organized and labeled and otherwise documented for posterity of whatever excuse I can think up. There are also, alas, many unphotographed moments that remain only in memory — some of the most memorable from then and now can only be shared through written or spoken words — not photographs. More on that little problem later. (To be continued.)


4 thoughts on “My Photographer Beginnings

  1. I always love seeing old family photos: I have thousands I need to scan, left them with my brother because I was scared to ship them here.
    You know Peter Beagle is still writing, just published a ‘coda’ to The Last Unicorn?

  2. I like this post a lot. I’m trying to remember what I saved up for when I was little (was I so spoiled that I never had to? I know I certainly never had to do work to get some money…)

    I remember getting my first polaroid camera. I had a lot of fun with that!

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