Ode to an old friend

One of the constants I can point to in my life is the presence of cameras.

It came from early Christmas mornings with movie cameras pointed at me to record the opening of gifts, with unnecessarily bright photofloods blinding me and slowing my progress.

Or memories of family trips, my mother faithfully placing the sun over her should to peer down into a waist-level viewfinder to record me and my sister in front of a lunar module in Houston.

Small, plastic devices that generally featured a flash cube atop to light up dark areas and record family gatherings or school friends were always at the read.

I have been fascinated with the process of photography since I was a youngster. My father gifted me with a twin-lens reflex camera that took medium format film, and he was good to provide me with film and processing services from the newspaper where he worked. His brother, also working in the newspaper industry, would often loan me his Canon 35mm camera to shoot a roll of film or two. He even took me into the darkroom and showed me how to print black and white images.

Floating through my freshman year of college with no real direction, a last-ditch effort landed me in a photography class in the summer and, by the end of that summer, a job at the local newspaper as a part-time sports reporter and darkroom technician.

I finally found my place in the adult career world.

A few years later, having grown tired of a screw-mount 35mm camera from Sears, I asked a local photographer which camera I should buy.

He told me to buy a Nikon FM2.

It was a completely manual camera that was introduced in 1982. The camera featured a 1/4,000 top shutter speed, which was revolutionary, along with a 1/250 flash synchronization speed. It was marketed toward advanced amateurs but loved by professionals due to its simplicity and ruggedness.

When my first tax return hit my hot hands, I made a beeline to Camera Mart on Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock. I purchased my first “real” camera, a Nikon FM2 with a 50mm f/1.8 lens.

I felt so professional.

The camera accompanied me to almost every event I attended. I used it for my newspaper job as well as for college assignments. I borrowed a lens and a motor drive from the photographer who initially recommended buying the camera to photograph a Razorback game. I remember using a 85mm to photograph the game. I was overshadowed by the shooters from larger news organizations using much larger lenses, but I felt like a part of the fraternity nonetheless.

The camera was used for years following college. I added a motor drive that shot a blazing 3.5 frames per second. I collected a variety of lenses that expanded how I was able to record the people and places in front of my camera. It photographed weddings, portraits, news stories and sporting events, as well as events in my own family and life.

Being a witness was and is one of the greatest things about photography, especially for me. I’ve met people I might never have had access to (how many of YOU have talked on Jesse Jackson’s cell phone?) and witnessed things that I never would have otherwise. Having a camera has at times been a golden ticket into worlds that most people online see from the outside. It has also been an invitation to share in some of life’s most sacred moments – births, weddings, family gatherings – as well as a witness to the ugliness that we encounter just from living on this earth. The variety has been a rewarding part of my life.

Eventually, as progress marched on, the FM2 was shelved for something newer, shinier, more advanced. Film-based images gave way to images created out of 1s and 0s, floating somewhere online without the benefit of a tangible medium that you could hold and admire.

But, I never got rid of the camera; I still have it, sitting on my dresser. I guess the emotional attachment of making the purchase at that time in my life and how it helped me find a path prevented that.

Although the camera is something of a relic today, I still believe that I could use that camera to produce meaningful and commercially viable imagery. It still works as designed, although it has quite a few dents and dings from being loved well. And by that I mean being used hard, not sitting on a shelf being admired.

Which brings us to today, which is Nikon’s 100th anniversary.

One hundred years ago today, the Nikon company was started as a manufacturer of optical glass. A little over 30 years ago this summer, I began a journey with one of their products.

Happy birthday, Nikon, and thanks for providing one of the tools of the trade that I have come to depend on.

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