I recently began celebrating Throwback Thursday, digging through scrapbooks for mementos I can scan and post online for friends to laugh (or cringe) at. Sadly, as part of this exercise, I’ve been reminded of how seldom I appear in my own photographs from high school, and particularly college.
I’ve never enjoyed having my picture taken. In fact, I just took my first selfie in December. (It must have been comical to watch me try to line the shot up properly, first moving my iPhone left and right to capture my whole face… then holding the camera still and ducking back-and-forth like a bobble head. I briefly considered flagging down a teenager to help me, but we Gen X-ers have our pride.)
Shyness is partly to blame for me being MIA in photos, but a truer explanation is… I seldom wind up in front of the camera, because I’m usually behind it. I don’t recall exactly when the photography bug bit, but my parents bought me my first Canon 35mm as a high school graduation gift, and I never looked back.
Countless point-and-shoots and SLRs later, photography remains my most consistent, consuming hobby and my primary creative outlet. I may be an introvert, but my favorite subjects are people. Go figure. For me, nothing beats the satisfaction of capturing a key play at home plate, or a candid expression on a friend’s child’s face, complete with flattering shadows and a sparkle in the eye. I love landscapes taken by others, but mine always feel just so-so compared to my portraits — selfies not withstanding.
And so, on this Throwback Thursday, I celebrate the contribution of Alexander Wolcott. On May 8, 1840, aided by John Johnson Sr., he received the first US patent for photography (US Patent No. 1582) for the Daguerreotype mirror camera, which featured technology still in use today. By reducing sitting time for portrait subjects from 30 minutes to just five, the Wolcott & Johnson camera advanced photography by leaps and bounds. It didn’t have a lens, and it certainly wouldn’t fit in anyone’s pocket — but it was groundbreaking nonetheless.
Avant-garde portrait photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1976) once said, “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
It’s true, photography is a journey, not a destination. No matter how pleased (or displeased) I am with a photo I took today, the moment captured is already history. Tomorrow, I can start fresh. Maybe I’ll even try a landscape. Or a still life. But will I dust off the auto timer for a self-portrait? Baby steps, people!