I’ve been interested in photography since I was 11 or 12 years old. In junior high, I read every book I could find about photography, and I took lots of notes.
Then I assembled my own basic instruction manual on taking photos, developing film and making prints.
Soon I had set up my own primitive darkroom in the laundry room of my parents’ basement.
I bought the photo-processing chemicals and some of the needed equipment with money I had earned.
My photo enlarger came from a family member.
My late uncle, Ross Devine, of Bettendorf, had been into photography in a big way before his death, and I borrowed his enlarger from my Aunt Thelma.
It was a behemoth — a J.G. Saltzman Inc. enlarger with a heavy transformer that powered a square, tubular light bulb filled with mercury.
Uncle Ross had worked as a press operator at the Morning Democrat and Daily Times, predecessors to the Quad-City Times. Perhaps that’s where he bought the enlarger. It’s not something you’d want to ship a great distance.
I was 14 in 1963 when I convinced my dad that his old camera, which used 110 film as I recall, was not suitable for our first-ever, big family vacation, a trip to Florida planned for that summer.
So we went to Sears, my parents’ store of choice for about everything except food that they bought. And my dad purchased a Sears Tower 35mm camera in a brown leather case.
It was small in comparison with today’s 35’s. The settings were all manual, and it was a twin lens reflex camera as opposed to the better single lens reflex cameras.
But it took good pictures when the settings were right, and I became the family’s official photographer for that vacation and beyond. To help get the settings right, I eventually bought a light meter. I bought it for, I think, $8 at a pawn shop.
Our early photographs from that Tower, including many of the photos from the 1963 vacation, were shot on black and white film.
Why? I suspect color wasn’t yet that common, and perhaps my parents, who had always shot in black and white, saw no reason to make the switch.
Or perhaps mom and dad, Dorothy and Ray Roberts, who were raised in the Depression era and had a conservative lifestyle, considered the cost of color film and its processing too pricey.
My father’s widowed mother, my grandmother, Grace Roberts of Hannibal, Mo., joined my parents, my brother Bruce and me on that trip to Florida.
A couple of photos, shown above, from that 1963 vacation bring back memories that to this day put a smile on my face.
The first one was taken in the Great Smokey Mountains.
As we drove, we saw some motorists parked along the road and figured out they were stopped because they wanted to watch a bear that was walking in the ditch.
We pulled over, too, and I asked my dad if I could snap a picture. He said yes.
Dad meant for me to take the shot from inside the car. But that’s not what I had in mind. I quickly got out of the car and started toward the bear to get a close-up shot.
But my excited parents quickly called me back, possibly saving me some loss of blood, and I ended up taking my photograph from the safety of our 1957 Chevrolet. It still turned out well.
The other photo was taken in St. Augustine, Florida.
My folks let me out at my request in a tourist area so I could get a shot of a driver with his horse and buggy waiting for customers. That’s something we didn’t have back home in Iowa.
Traffic was heavy at the time, so dad said he’d circle the block and come back for me.
He did come back, but it took quite a while. He either got caught in a traffic jam or lost — I don’t remember which.
And I was a bit worried by the time he returned.
When I needed a camera, I borrowed my parents’ Tower camera until about 1965, when I was 16 and had a job in a grocery store. Then, with money I had earned, I bought a used Yashica-A that had been listed for sale in the classified ads.
The Yashica-A, manufactured from 1958 to 1969, was, like the Tower, a twin lens reflex camera with all manual settings. It used 120 film and had a gray leather case.
It was a good camera. I joined the Davenport West High School yearbook staff in 1966, my junior year, and used the Yashica for all the photos I was assigned to take.
I’ve been around for more than six decades, and there have been many cameras in my life since the Tower and Yashica. But those were the ones I used to learn the principles of photography, and they’ll always be special.
Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.