"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

early works

A few months ago, I was invited to submit some of my childhood photos to an exhibition that was being assembled by Laura Moya and Laura Valenti Jelen. "Early Works" opened at Newspace Gallery in Portland and is now on its way to Rayko Photography Center in San Francisco. It features photos by 35 photographers, all made when we were very young. I loved the concept from the minute I first heard about it. The show has just now gone online. Take a look - the photos are sweet, and the narratives that accompany them are wonderful. 

Here are a few of my favorites.

This is a picture of my sister Linda at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. It was made on my Kodak Instamatic, the first camera I ever owned. Linda died a couple years ago after a long battle with alcoholism. It really wasn't much of a battle as the alcohol always held the upper hand. It had been that way since she was a teenager. This image represents a time when our family could still pretend we were normal and that there was still a possibility that Linda could grow up and live happily ever after.
I miss her.
- Douglas Beasley

In the late 1960's I began to feel passionate about photography. In the summer of 1969, I lived in Brooklyn, New York and during my daily excursions I would look at the scenes on the sidewalks for interesting photographs. I shot this one of the man, dog, and bird in 1969 during the month that a man landed on the moon for the first time.
This was the first photograph that I shot of a bird. It has become an important milestone in my career, as at the end of the year Thames and Hudson will be publishing a book of bird images in a strange surrealistic place that I have worked in over the past six years.
- Roger Ballen

This is a picture I took in our backyard of my brother (in the stripes) and his friend Steve. It was always a challenge to hold the camera so my fingers weren't in front of the lens. At this point I must have been getting better at it, as they only show as two dark spots on the edge of the picture.
When I saw my brother's shoes in this photo, I remembered his struggle and his work boots, which weren't cool at that time. All the kids had Red Ball Jets tennis shoes but Eric was born with club feet and had to wear special shoes that he was embarrassed about. I remember when he got the "all clear" and didn't have to wear the work boots anymore. He got a new pair of tennis shoes, ran down to the street, and jumped and pounded his feet onto the pavement. It was such a big deal to be able to wear regular tennis shoes like all the other boys.
As an adult he started running marathons so I guess the special shoes worked after all.
- Lori Bell
In 1956 my grandfather gave me my first camera. It was my fifth birthday, and life has never been the same. Immediately I set to photographing my world, especially my family. My sister Pammy had to endure me the most.
Although she may remember things a bit differently, I was not a bully. I was just a big brother. Yes, I did break her arm about three years after I took this particular picture, but I didn't mean to. Really, I just wanted to watch "The Honeymooners," not "Casper."
Back to this picture. It was 1958, Eisenhower was in the White House, and we were playing with our neighbors Michael and Suzy in their backyard. I was photographing them, which was (and is) how I related to the world, and Mikey did something to my sister. You can tell just by looking at him. And my sister was a crybaby. I mean really, it was like her hobby.
Perhaps as a result of my always annoying my sister with my camera, she fell in love with photography, too. She is now a photography gallery director. Had I known how things would turn out, I would have treated her better.
- Rich Frishman

It was 1960, and the San Francisco Giants were playing their first season at Candlestick Park. I remember getting to the park early to watch batting practice and run around some before the ushers made me sit in my assigned seat for the game. The players entered and exited the field through a door along the right field line.
After borrowing my dad's camera (a Bell & Howell Electric Eye 127), I waited like a young paparazzi in what I thought would be the best place to get a shot of the Giant's center fielder [Willie Mays]. I remember that I preferred taking pictures to getting autographs.
And yes, that is a finger smudge on the lens.
- Michael Jang

In 1968, I saved my allowance money and purchased a cheap instamatic camera from a cereal company. My dad's family slideshows and issues of Life and Look magazines were the whole of my exposure to photography. It was enough; I was hooked. For a reason I can no longer remember I started with black and white film.
In this image—one of my earliest—I designed a photo shoot with the help of an assistant, my friend Rita. Her job was to help my "prop" to the top of the slide. The prop was my trusting and unsuspecting little nephew, John. I wanted to capture the action, which meant risking the safety of his landing. I couldn't be expected to both make the picture and catch John, and I really wanted to make the picture. Remembering the outing and my excitement to experiment makes this image valuable to me. I love that the initial exhilaration and pleasure of photography still resonates inside me.
As for the rest of the story, John did have a bit of a rough landing, but I am happy to report that he survived the outing without injury, and has grown into a fine man. Rita remains my friend, though she not longer serves as my photo assistant.
And I still use black and white film.
- Ann Kendellen

This is a fish's eye view of family at the beach—my parents Vern and Irene, and my best friend Steve. I have fond memories of family vacations spent camping and swimming. I used to practice holding my breath for as long as I could. I'd swim as far away as possible in order to scare the crap out of my parents when I didn't come up for air, and then come walking nonchalantly down the beach. That's a kid's idea of fun. In an effort to make a slightly more interesting photo, I decided to shoot this image from the water. The image was taken with a Kodak Brownie.
I think this picture was taken around the time that I discovered photography. When I was eight or nine I came across a beginner's darkroom kit while walking through the toy department at Sears or Montgomery Ward. The kit contained a 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 contact printer and three trays (red, white, and blue) for developer, stop bath, and fixer. I built a darkroom in my bedroom closet and began making contact prints from old family negatives. Eventually, I began making my own photos. I know it's cliché, but the magic and alchemy involved in developing my first prints really did change my life.
- Jim Lommasson

When I was seven years old I was suddenly rushed to the hospital with a diagnosis of a serious blood infection. Transferred immediately to Critical Care, I entered a life of glass walls, twice daily blood tests, a brief visit from death and an endless, white alabaster sky. But I was lucky, I survived (too many kids didn't). I was released two years later. Although confined to bed for a few months, by late summer it was time for me to learn how to walk again; I soon received a Kodak Brownie camera as my reward.
This is the very first photograph I took. Looking back, it symbolized a welcome to a wondrous new world where I could explore, dream, and create without boundaries—the world of photography.
- Frederick Sharpe

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