• April 18, 2024

Why I Snapped

I was going to write a blog post today about weddings. I have all the photographs sorted and ready. Then I got distracted.

I have been distracted trying to figure out how to get found on Google. What do I have to do? There is no help for this. Then I find other photographers. SO. MANY. OTHER. PHOTOGRAPHERS. And one thing I saw more than once in other photographers’ “about me” pages is that they talk about how they “first picked up a camera when they were 7 years old.” or 5 or 3 – like it’s a competition who started the youngest.

I was in Photography club in 8th grade, there were boys involved and a dark room, it was junior high.

Growing up in Detroit, my family never did professional portraits or family pictures. And for my high school senior picture, it was assumed I would be using the image provided at the beginning of the school year. You know, the one with the blue background and the frozen smile they used for our “student i.d.”

During the first week of my high school senior year I had gotten a glimpse of Sandy Mersman’s senior pictures, she had already gotten wallets and was handing them out. She had them taken at a place called, “a portrait studio.” She looked like a model in her senior picture!

I insisted this was what I needed (yes, needed) for my senior pictures. I called the studio, made the appointment and they gave me suggestions of what to wear and even allowed outfit changes! (outfit changes!) I picked out my two most perfect sweaters to wear.

I went with my mom to the “viewing appointment” to see the proofs. (she probably got choked up because I didn’t look like a tom boy in them). The “proofs” were printed and mounted on a display board. I remember that the middle package cost something like $285, it was so expensive. I remember feeling a little anxious that she wouldn’t buy any. But she did and she got 2 8x10s and about 2000 wallets (okay, 50 wallets).

Wallets were the most important. My social life back then basically hinged on the wallets. Credit card sized pictures to give to all of your friends or anyone with a pulse that asked for one. On the back was enough space to write something brief but personal to certain people or at least just autograph. It was a wonderful tradition that seemed so ordinary at the time.

Fast forward a decade and a half from my high school graduation to spring of 1999. In junior high camera club, I never had my own SLR, I only borrowed from the teacher. But now as a wife and mother living far from home and wanting to send my family in Michigan some pictures of our kids. I felt it was time to upgrade. Keep in mind this is the in-between time of instamatics and the dawn of camera-phones.

Nikon had recently introduced a digital camera called the Coolpix. I wanted to see it, hold it, feel it. A titanium twist body and built in flash. It had a menu and a manual mode. It was – a lot of money – but I bought it. Every picture I took with that Coolpix came out pretty amazing. PLUS I could pop the images into the computer and view them without turning the film over to a developer, wondering for days how they’d turn out.

Even though the Coolpix was vastly superior to the several Vivitars and Kodak Instamatics that passed through my hands, I was still thinking about creating images like the portraits I got in my senior year of high school.

My King Charles Spaniel about a year old, taken with a CoolPix camera

In Oct 2004, we got the most beautiful dog for our family, a black and tan Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Such a sweet little animal. One warm Memorial Day in 2009, we took our usual walk to the coffee shop, we lingered on the patio with the dog as we chatted with friends. When we got home, the dog was in distress. He was pacing and panting and he couldn’t seem to calm down. I thought it might be the heat. I put him in a tub of cool water and petted him until he could calm down. As I pet him, I felt a hard lump on his neck and at that moment, I heard my heart breaking.

The vet said about 6 weeks would be all he might have. For $15,000 we could do chemo treatments and possibly extend that to 6 months but no guarantees and most likely no cure.

As much as I adored that little dog, there was no way I would consider mortgaging the house for him. But what I did think I could do is capture his sweet gentle look forever in portraits before he goes. I know this sounds nuts, maybe it was nothing more than justification, but I bought a new Canon 5D and a Scott Kelby Digital Photography book.

I sat on our front porch every morning that entire, beautiful summer with my little black and tan dog in my lap, reading the Scott Kelby book. I practiced the assignments. I was determined to get the best images I could of my dog before he leaves me.

First photo with Canon 5D
On the ottoman, summer of 2009, his typical pose.
late summer 2009 – he liked to carry a pinecone in his mouth on walks
– he didn’t need a leash, he never strayed.

The dog made it through the summer, and I swear it was the hottest summer we’d ever had. At times he seemed like he was on the verge of a miraculous recovery. He didn’t beat the odds though, he departed us December 14, 2009

All that to say earlier about photographers who include in their bio that their career started when they were little kids, I wasn’t one of those prodigies. I didn’t have a clue about any of this before the age of 40. It wasn’t until I felt a child-like love for a black and tan dog that I recognized my need for a connection through photographs.