Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I don't know who planted the first seed in my mind, but it was certainly in place when I was very young. I've always been fascinated by machines and things that whirr, move, and click (hence the title of this blog.) As I've gotten older, this need to be closer to "outdated" technology has gotten stronger, to the point where I'm now raiding junk shops for treasures to covet and rescue (as I explain it to my ever-tolerant wife.) What was the genesis of this old-tech love? Messing with things that click.

I've certainly inherited my paternal grandfather's love of cameras and photography. I've since given a home to all of his old equipment that sat in his darkroom basement, a solid cinder-block structure smack in the middle of the room -- his own personal Holy of Holies, with its red bulb mounted by the door warning the uninitiated to stay away. I remember being perched on one of the stools in there watching him work: the smell of fixer strong in the dim amber light, experiencing the magic of images suddenly appearing on paper, watching for that moment when the rush of blacks would start pooling into recognizable shapes. When I picture him in my mind's eye, though, he's always squinting through a viewfinder or peering down into a focusing hood, lining up the shot, framing the image, freezing a little slice of time. A visit to his house always meant lots of time playing in the yard with my sister, gathering sticks and acorns from the yard, raking and piling leaves, tossing balsa wood gliders into the air and retrieving them from the dense pachysandra that formed a broad moat around the front of the house. Always in the background, though, "Chub" was standing by, usually with a Rolleiflex in hand, peering down into the hood, occasionally winding and clicking away at his grandkids. The smell of old cameras moldering in thrift stores is a visceral reminder of those times. I used his old equipment for a while, snapping photos of my new son, and I took photography courses in processing and composition through the local adult education program. When my second child came along, the bathroom-as-darkroom wasn't nearly as workable, and my Free Time became Daddy Time (a worthwhile trade!) so the equipment was all carefully boxed and wrapped and stacked in the storage closet for a time when it can be pulled out again and the old rituals performed anew.

Over time, I've accumulated other cameras: the old folding Kodak from my maternal grandfather that shot my mother's first birthday photo, another folder I bought from an antique shop in Ann Arbor, a wind-up movie camera from a church sale, and so forth. Few of them work any more, due to light leaks or utter lack of film availability, but I cherish them all. We're on our fourth digital camera now, which is simply far more convenient for taking snapshots of the (now three) kids, but the cameras are still there, sitting just above the wrapping paper and board games, a reminder that developer and fixer run in my blood.

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