For Whom the Shutter Snaps

This post was inspired more by certain recent activities than by my grandfather’s camera itself. But first, the camera: This is the one that I first used to take pictures, around the age of 6. It was also the first camera that my mother learned to use in the early 1930’s. It was quite an effort for me to learn how to handle it, in spite of my mother’s patient tutelage.

The focus ring is calibrated in meters, the standard of measurement in all but three nations. But I was raised in one of those oddball nations, so had to be shown how to pace off meters. My tiny legs could barely span one, but I did learn to focus a camera by pacing before I could estimate by eye.

The external light meter was beyond me; I didn’t originally “get” how to adjust the f-stop and time based on a needle crossing half a dozen scales. But my mother patiently showed me that there really were only a few choices. Five speeds: Latch-open, hold-open, 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100.  The f-stop runs from 6.3 to 32. And keep in mind that film only went up to an ASA of about 100 when my maternal grandfather was using it. One had to hold quite still to get a clear shot in full sunlight.

When I was eight or nine I received a durable, cheap camera that used film cartridges. Then I got a “110” compact camera in the early 1970’s.  By the late 1970’s I switched to my first in a series of SLR’s. I went digital in 2001. But I last used my grandfather’s camera in 1980, just to develop such big film in my own darkroom. Currently I take over 7,000 shots a year, a few hundred of which I might share. Mostly online, as on FaceBook or my travel page.

But the impetus behind this post and my main point is, what’s the point? After each parent died, I took it upon myself to wade through pictures of them to create memorial service picture boards and websites (Joseph and Erika). You may have surmised above that my mother was the shutterbug. It was a periodic passion with her. Her darkroom days peaked in the 1950’s, and she finally donated her equipment to a school about 2 years before I seriously got into photography.

So I found boxes of disorganized pictures and partial albums and drawers and carousels of slides to wade through. Most of the pictures were of people I didn’t know, scenes I’d never seen, and other precious mementos without referent for anyone but the original taker. There was an abundance of baby pictures of my brother and me, but few of us siblings as we became individuals.

It was hard to find pictures of my parents doing anything characteristic. Not one shot of my mother cooking or gardening, or my father at the computer or reading. Most vacation pictures were of scenery or specific plants or mushrooms, with some rare shots containing family members. We all scoff at vacationers taking pictures of each other in front of Scenic Outlooks. But it occurs to me that this is the sort of thing I’d have liked to have, after my parents passed. My father climbing Ayers Rock or underground at CERN, or my mother in some ferny forest hunting mushrooms or among the redwoods. Even a snapshot of our family enjoying a typical Sunday brunch at home would be treasured at this point.

Pictures not taken: My father was a whiz with a slipstick and the Addiator. He smoked a pipe for a while, played the harmonica, recorder, guitar, and the pump organ. Before the war took his shoulder, he played the violin; I’d like see that. My mother literally sculpted many an artistic meal, and gardened literally like a pro. Yes, I am using “literally” literally. She climbed trees well into her 50’s, cut down other trees, dug deep flower beds, laid patios, knitted, wove chairs, and refinished furniture. There is not one picture of these activities since I was born.

So my suggestion to those of you who take pictures is, consider for whom the shutter snaps (or the capture encodes if you prefer). Plan for the people who may want to see you or yours in ordinary activities. One never knows what currently mundane thing may later be looked upon with nostalgia.

Dan, his camera by his side and his mustache in the breeze, at Dead Horse Point

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1 Response to “For Whom the Shutter Snaps”


  1. 1 thekeyofsee May 28, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Good stuff. I’ll carry this lesson with me when I find myself in my photographer’s brain. Sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary.


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