My grandfather loved cameras and collected them, particularly in the 1950s, when they became immensely popular and more user-friendly. They were bulky and heavy with all kinds of knobs and instruments, but they looked futuristic and, on some level, were beautiful machinery.
His old Argus camera had a high-quality brown leather case, so snug on the camera with button snaps that it remained a part of the device at all times. The weight of the metal required adjustable shoulder straps which, when worn around the neck, sparked the American “tourist” look in the mid-20th century. A spool of 35mm film was used in those cameras, and a person had to be careful and nimble when trying to align the grooves of the film within the gear apparatus so that the film would properly unwind while in rotation for photo taking.
As a boy, I enjoyed tinkering with my Dad’s old Kodak point and shoot camera, a simple and small box with a centered lens. That thing was indestructible, and I can recall one time watching it bound down the sharp granite rocks of Lake Murray in Oklahoma, only to be surprised that other than a few scratches, it continued to work like a charm. My folks did not invest in high-end cameras, but they always had a basic one in hand or nearby for family functions, along with a bag of Kodachrome rolls of film. Paul Simon wrote a song about that film, which always conjures for me memories of bright, sunny summers of picnics and swimming in cut-off jeans.
Thanks to Mom and Dad, we have hundreds of photographs in several family albums, which like Ringo Starr penned, “remind me of the places we used to go.” The photos are yellowing some due to Mississippi humidity, but they are on the shelf for occasional reminiscing and for refreshing fading memories.
As time passed, the cameras got better, enabling amateurs to capture motion in a freeze frame, as sung by the J. Geils Band. In the 1980s, when that song was a hit, my best friend was a fledgling photographer and spent countless hours in the lonely isolation of a small red lit room called a “darkroom.” He would place paper in a solution, and hang the dripping mess from a cord, while he patiently waited for the photo to appear from nowhere.
Today, I have cameras from the last seven decades, all in good working order. They are museum pieces now, relics of a lost era, supplanted by camera phones, which send digital images to a cloud of photo albums. The days of film developing are mostly gone, and I know few people who spend weekends updating family photo albums with cute captions and drawings.
Alas, I may sound old and nostalgic, but I do miss the tactile experience of holding a Polaroid, pushing a button, watching blank photo paper feed out, and then waving the paper for a magical impression to slowly appear. Imagine Dragons, an immensely popular rock band today, said in a song that “Love is a Polaroid, better in a picture, but can never fill the void.” That is how I feel about my grandfather who collected cameras so long ago. I love him and miss him. While I can never fill the void of his absence, photos from those old cameras do harken back to the days of warmth, safety, and laughter with “Grandpa.”
Clark Hicks is a civil litigation attorney and Hattiesburg resident. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.