Thursday, May 26, 2011

The camara that changed my life

The year was 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President of the United States, the US had detonated the world's first hydrogen bomb and the Koren conflict was in the forefront of many young men's minds as they signed up for the armed forces. One of those young lads was my father, Thomas Grimes Jr. At a young 18 years of age, he joined the Navy. When I try and imagine what he must have felt like, the emotions consume me. The child of the rural South, the world must have felt so big on the USS Bennington, the air craft carrier that took him nearly around the world.

He told me that on one of his first stops in Europe, he picked up this Agfa Isolette camera. When I looked it up this morning on the internet, I found the original advertisement. It was $57. To us, in 2011, that's about a $500 investment. That was a pretty big purchase for my Dad, and I can see him now agonizing over the decision to buy it or not. I am so glad he did.

Here's a couple of photos taken with this camera in Europe while my father served in the Navy. The one of the left is of my dad, the right is a graveyard in Italy. Dad was really great about describing every photo on the back, but, I'm not so great at reading his writing. I should really take this one home and ask him to translate it :)

I remember as a young child I would look through the photos he took of the strange foreign places he visited. Greece, Italy and the wide, open ocean would stare back at me. I loved looking at the strangely constructed buildings but especially at the faces of the people living there. I almost felt a kinship with the children in the photos, they had, after all, known my father for a moment, even as brief as it must have been.

I used to look at this camera up on the shelf and beg to look through it's viewfinder. On my 9th birthday, I was finally granted the permission. From that time on, this camera was never far from my reach. Although other cameras like the 110, a hand-me-down Polaroid and even my first 35mm came along to entertain me, I always came back to this one. It was solid and it felt, well, professional to me.

I struggled with the manual settings for years, with no internet to help me find a long, lost instruction book. But, eventually, I figured it out. I suspect, it helped me when I finally did get my own professional camera of my own, when I was 25 years old.

Now, 59 years after it left Europe, I still have this camera on my desk. I look at it often, shoot it about once a year, and still think about those European kids in those photos. I wonder how their lives developed, and if some serendipitous purchase of their parents changed their life too?

Perhaps certain series of events in our life are not so random after all.

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