Saturday, June 18, 2016

Love on a Beach...

...from a photographer's notebook

Detail from "Love on a Beach" ©2016 Steve Ember

I own many cameras, and I’ve never had occasion to question the simple veracity of this maxim: The very best camera in the world is the one you have in your hand when a special moment happens.

Despite its obvious technical limitations, I’ve always been very fond of this particular photographic moment for its spontaneity, unequivocal joy, and love.

I can not imagine anyone enjoying a beach as much as this happy little girl and her father were at the moment I shot this image!

I’ve always been reluctant about taking along the “serious” cameras when planning to spend some hours lying in the sand of an ocean beach. Just too easy for an unintended dollop of suntan lotion, a surfeit of salt air, or the errant grain of sand to mess with the internals or turn a prime lens into a paperweight…

Back in 1990, when this moment was captured on the Atlantic seashore along the Delaware coast, when the ubiquitous camera phone was only a mad scientist’s dream, Kodak and other film manufacturers offered fun little disposable cameras with vacation-y names for just such needs, and I thought it might be prudent to purchase one and not worry about my “real” cameras on this July day.

The “Stretch 35” was part of Kodak’s “Fling 35” series (as I said, vacation-y!). It was casually waterproof. By that I mean I don’t think Kodak was promoting it for casual scuba diving photographers, but I knew it’d be OK to carry it into the surf.

Of course, by any conceptual measure, the “Stretch 35” was a “real” camera  - a light-tight box with a lens on the front by which, through the intervention of a wee shutter, a happy scene can light-paint itself on a piece of film. In this case, the lens was a (need I say!) basic 25 mm, and the camera featured a “panoramic” format, by virtue of exposing 12 “letter-box” slices of the Kodak Gold-200 film inside. The idea was your mini lab would print out your vacation-flingy fun on prints that were 10 inches wide (instead of 5). At that size, the photos were about sharp enough…Heck, we’re talking vacation-fling memories, here, not gallery size enlargements. Oops, guess I should add to that analogy 23-inch monitors.

But really, for me this little love-moment overcomes its technical limitations, and I hope it brings a smile.

If you took your first picture with a smart phone, this will sound very quaint; but once the twelve “panoramic” frames were shot, one did not worry about such things as rewinding and unloading the film, but simply took the whole “package,” sandy and slick with suntan oil though it may have become, to a one-hour lab, where it was opened up and the film loaded into the processing machine. What was left was, presumably, “re-cycled.”

Thus, a “one-use” or “disposable” camera could be a pretty practical alternative, where sand and suntan oil, to say nothing of ketchup and French fries, might wreak havoc with traditional gear. It removed any degree of camera-angst from a day of taking in the rays and wading into countless gallons of saltwater, leaving as the only angst: “Have I slathered on sufficient UV protection to keep from looking and feeling like a broiled lobster while dining that evening on, mmm, broiled lobster?”
©2016 Steve Ember

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