back to the basics

When I was 9 my dad was going to swap meets, gun shows, antique stores etc. Same as he does today, same as he always will. Yet at one of these events he found something that would change my life forever. At one of these little meets he found a Canon 1980 AE-1 35mm camera. The body was in pristine shape, and the basic lens was also functional, it even had a cap that alluded to the sponsorship of the 1980 Olympics by Canon. My dad bought this camera with its hideous rad and yellow strap, and sentimental lens cap; he took it home, he dusted it off, he bought a camera bag and presented me this for my 10th birthday.

I was ecstatic at this gift, and to this day I think it was the best present I ever got as a child. This meant I would no longer waste film and energy with my grandma’s ole and clunky point and shoot and that I too could have an SLR, just like my dad’s Pentax and take photos. Lots of photos.

Yet it was not just taking photos it was everything that came with the responsibility of owning and using an SLR. It meant that my first roll of film was ruined when I tried to wind it up because I didn’t understand the method of pushing one little black button on the bottom of the camera, shredding my work. It meant that I had to learn how to patiently adjust lighting, shutter speed, focus etc. It meant walking around outside and in my house with a piece of cardboard with a square cut out of it to see what framed well or not. It meant months of waiting to save up money to develop film. It meant being the weird kid in middle school always taking pictures on her SLR or a throw away. This was before smart phones, and the time when it was cool to be shutter happy. 

So why bring this up?

Well in Italy this summer another student at my school, a professional photographer that owns his own business and has since he was a teenager (now 24) was going back to basics. He was going to art school for photography to get an actual degree. Granted it seemed that he knew about 95% of what he was relearning, but he felt happy learning it all over again. 

So, here I am, back at Colorado State, 22 years old, meaning I have about 12 years of experience, I’ve shot two weddings, I have another on the way. I have a decent portfolio and I believe a lot of talent and experience but I am taking a bare-bones basic photography class, where I am relearning most of what I know or instinctively do when I am taking photos.

Yet, there is something thrilling about relearning these little things, or reminding yourself about all the little functions of a camera or the importance of aperture. As frustrated as I was in my first two weeks of a game of repetition all the sudden today I feel refreshed. It is not as if I am learning something new, or having a major life change as a result, I just feel excited again. 

Not only am I going to be shooting some neat things for the class, which is a minor challenge and mentally stimulating, something I need in a course, but I am getting to slowly sink into a pool of photography. I don’t have to explain to people, I can just do photos, I don’t have to be perfect for a client, I can just do photos and once again I am tasting what it was to be 10 years old taking photos of plastic dinosaurs. 

I can breath in the smell of equipment, and though the gelatin plastic sweetness of film is tucked in the back of my closet, there is so much with digital that I can be excited about. 

Which brings me to my point. Maybe we can all use to go back to basics. Maybe just baking sugar cookies until they’re perfect, or doodling, or sewing draw string bags. Because I am finding a thrill in relearning, in being more present, in going slowly. I am also learning to not look down on “the simple” because there is some chunk in there for us to gain something from. So experts and professionals, where did you start? What could you go back to to reclaim part of you?

~Rebecca Lee Robinson

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