In my previous memoir post, I talked about my first camera, a Kodak Disc 3100. Over the next several years, I had a handful of other cameras including a different Disc camera, some sort of Minolta camera and a couple others. None were so memorable because each was a simple point-and-shoot, fixed focal length camera. Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing wrong with simple cameras. Even the most basic camera still afforded me the freedom of expression. But the difference between my Kodak Disc 3100 and the camera I borrowed in 1992 was that the borrowed camera gave me absolute control. The camera gave me complete control of shutter speed, aperture and more. The camera was my father’s. And I never really gave it back (he didn’t mind).
1992: Steve, my brother, was accepted into the US Naval Academy. The family took him down to early in the summer so that he could start basic training. Built on the historic Chesapeake town of Annapolis, The Naval Academy is visited by many who wish to explore its architecture and beauty. The entire ordeal was a bit of a challenge for me. My brother and I were close, and I was very uncomfortable with the idea that he was going to be away from home for so long. So the long weekend turned into a very long goodbye to my best friend. Fortunately, I was easily distracted by the camera my father brought along: His own camera, a Nikon N2000.
The Nikon N2000 (also known as the F-301 outside of the US) was an entry-level, manual-focus, SLR camera. Released in 1985, it was part of Nikon’s lineup that included the famous FM2 (the mid-range), the F-501 (the high-end) and the F3 (the pro-body). The Nikon N2000 actually functioned almost like the F-501, except that it didn’t have auto-focus. I could control focus. I never had to before, but now I was forced to learn how to focus. Fortunately, it did have a really nice split-circle focusing screen. For someone with my experience, the N2000 posed a challenge.
My old cameras did not allow me to control the aperture. You would select the aperture on the lens collar with this camera. There was almost no way to avoid selecting the aperture. One of the modes on this camera was Aperture Priority, which was new to me. The camera chooses an appropriate shutter speed for me based on the aperture I chose. And when the it didn’t think my exposure would work, it warned me. Armed with a brief tutorial from my father, I began experimenting with depth of field. Unfortunately, this was an era before digital photography. Fortunately, it was also the era of 1-hour photo processing. Such a place existed across from our hotel. My father and I visited that place several times that weekend. But after about three rolls of film, I started to understand aperture.
With the weekend over, we parted ways with my brother. We would see him again in September when Basic Training was complete and he was starting his normal curriculum. But until then, I continued to use my father’s camera throughout the summer. My skills grew through the Darwinian process I grew to appreciate so much. I carried a photo journal and took notes on all of the settings for each photograph. Mistakes were made, but I learned from them. As my skills with the camera grew, so did my obsession with photography. I do believe that summer, I used the camera more than my father had in the prior 7 years that he owned it.
September came and we returned once more to the Naval Academy. We spent time with my brother. Steve’s changes were quite noticeable. He had grown more mature, more courteous and had much less body fat. Compared to the photos I took of him earlier in the summer, one might have thought years had past. I had improved my skills with the camera, so the photos looked better. I was taking candid shots of my brother in weak moments with a silky blur in the background. There were great depth of field shots of my brother with Dad’s look of concern while he heard about my brother’s challenges over the summer. I felt like a photojournalist. There was also a comfort with that camera and that lens between me and reality.
Photography had not only become a hobby, it had become a bit of therapy in which I was able to detach myself from the world and orbit around it while snapping photos. The camera gave me the tools to analyze the situation and capture the most important moments that I would want to remember. And it allowed me to ignore those moments that I didn’t care to remember. The camera helped me shape the world into something digestible. Quite frankly, it made my brother’s absence a bit more tolerable. I welcomed the distraction.
I continued to use the N2000 as my primary camera. My dad never really asked for it back, and I was okay with that. I would eventually take formal classes in Photography, but the few years I had with the N2000 without formal education taught me a lot. That time was indispensable. I still have and use the N2000. It will always be my go-to camera for film. It has always been one of my best friends, so I will never part with it. And so, because of all of the memories we had together, I will never forget 1992: The year I started to use an SLR.