Last we spoke of my photography memoir, I was telling you about how I had my first formal education in photography in 1994. So now we flash forward to 2003 when I rediscovered my love for photography.
Nine years is a long and empty space in my memory about my beloved hobby. Looking back, I admit I’m a bit ashamed of that fact. I started my formal photography instruction in 1994, which was the start of my senior year of high school. I graduated in spring, 1995. I continued to explore photography to some degree through the summer and into my freshman year at college. But over the course of my time in college, I suppose I lost some regularity in my shooting. Darkroom access was also limited since I was not an art student. As an aside, my college later aligned my program under the umbrella of the Art School. If I were enrolled now, I’d have darkroom access; but there’s no point dwelling on that irony. Suffice to say, my hobby shrunk to an embarrassing level during my college life.
College ended, I entered the workforce; one would suppose I’d have time and the money to explore photography again. And I probably did. My girlfriend at the time, however, wasn’t very keen on the hobby and I guess I chose her over the hobby. Now here’s a bit of a twenty-twenty-hindsight moment: That should have been the clue that I was not with the right woman. But I only realize that now because I am writing this article. Really.
Here’s the real twenty-twenty-hindsight moment: In 2002, I met the woman that is now my wife. The following summer, I jumped back into photography with my trusty Nikon N2000. My camera was always with me. A local camera shop was offering development straight-to-CD, which I took advantage of. It had me learning new digital editing techniques in photoshop. I read a lot of magazines, digested a large number of books and spent a good number of hours experimenting. An inordinate amount of time was dumped into my photography. But my girlfriend didn’t seem to be bothered. There were plenty of reasons why I asked her to marry me. Looking back…I guess this is just another reason.
Nearly a year was spent working on my craft. My early attempts at digital editing fell short of my darkroom skills. So I pressed on in my learning cycle: Research, experimentation, failure, realization, repeat. If you have the patience, it’s not a bad way to learn. But I was set back a good chunk of change while I burned through roll after roll of film. This is why I am so envious of those who learned on digital: It’s so much cheaper to burn bad frames. Those learning through the same cycle with digital cameras only lose time. On the other hand, wasting film and money was a great incentive to learn efficiently. So I guess there’s an argument for both.
There was a stark difference between being instructed and teaching myself. I feel the formal instruction was necessary to give me the foundation to learn on my own. I wouldn’t have been able to start from zero. I tried so many years ago when I was young. And I guess I got along well enough. But to get to the level I wanted to be, my high school instructor turbo-charged my learning. I appreciated it at the time. But from this vantage point in the future (relative to my high school self), I owe a lot to those classes. Beginning in the summer of 2003, I took my knowledge from those courses and experimented my way to wisdom.
See, I think that’s what I was missing in college. I didn’t have the time or money to truly experiment. So I didn’t have a channel to learn and therefore lacked the motivation to continue with my craft. In 2003, I was afforded the time. I experimented. I grew. It wasn’t the first or last time I would grow. There are still a great many places where roots and branches could be extended. But I will always look back on the summer of 2003 as the day I learned how to grow on my own.