While I was in high school, I made a discovery that would change my artistic life. Simply put, I just wasn’t good at drawing or painting. Sculpture? Forget it. Ceramics? Meh. Printmaking? Nope.
Photography was a different story. Almost immediately, I felt like I was born to do it. In photography class, I was introduced to professional-grade single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras.
What a difference! At long last, I felt like I was in control of image creation – I no longer had to guess at it.
Of course, my high school’s SLR cameras had a steep learning curve, but it’s one that I relished. If I mastered these cameras, perhaps I could become like my classmate Mark, who already had his own professional photography studio.
My first big discovery was the SLR viewfinder, which felt like a collaborative partner for my creativity. Through the SLR viewfinder, I could see exactly what the lens was focused on. It wasn’t like using one of the snapshot cameras in the Retallick household, with the lens in the center and the viewfinder off to one side. With the SLR, there was no question about what the photograph would look like. I could see it while I was composing in the camera’s viewfinder.
I moved beyond the mere act of taking photos – and hoping they turned out the way I wanted – to designing photos; I learned that SLR cameras were superb editing devices. They could help me capture “big picture” scenes like the woods that surrounded my family home. Or, if I wanted to feature a single beech tree, I could use selective focus and depth of field to emphasize details like the shapes of the roots and patterns of the bark. It was as if I’d acquired a new set of eyes with powers that my natural eyes didn’t possess.
Reuniting with an Old Friend
During a late 2014 walk around my childhood neighborhood, I came across the beech tree shown above. I took the opportunity to revisit one of my earliest photographic projects, studying the anatomical details of tree roots and bark.
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