Yes, it is my birthday. I’m 69. In another era I would be an Old Man…or dead. Instead, I seem to be fortunate in what vitality I have. I work at it, of course, but that’s not always a guarantee. I intend fighting decrepitude for as long as I can.
This year, my father died. He was 92. My mother is 88. I come from long-lived stock, so to speak.
But I thought today, for this, I’d depart a bit from the standard birthday celebration kind of reminiscence. Not sure if this will tie in, but what are anniversaries like this for if not for indulging memory?
I remember two homes growing up. There was a house, which we lived in till I was in 3rd grade, when we moved to a two-family owned by my grandparents. That led to some mixed feelings on all sides, but for the most part I was oblivious to all that. Around the age of 15 I took up photography. It went quickly from hobby to passion to potential career. I early on became enamored of the old masters—Adams and Weston and Bullock and Cunningham and all that later became lumped, accurately or not, in the f64 Group. The clarity of those images still holds me. Instead of the more current photographers of my youth, I worked to imitate those older artists, with their grandeur and depth, lugging around those enormous view cameras.
I was not successful at it for several years, but occasionally I got lucky. The light was just right, the scene presented itself as if begging to be photographed. So here is one with specific place memories if nothing else.
The backyard of my grandparents’ house was nothing much, but on one side there were paving stones instead of poured walkway. My grandfather was a fortunate and dedicated gardener and there were always flowers. One morning I stumbled out there with one of my enormous cameras—a 2 1/4 press camera, a Mamiya, designed for weddings and so forth, but which I often used as if it were a 35mm, an instrument for photojournalists—and found this image:
My method back then was to blaze away and sort through the negatives later. I suspect most photographers do something like that, whether they admit it nor not. I found that with time I got luckier and luckier. (Quite often I would snap a picture, not knowing why, and even wondering for some time after why I’d taken that shot, only to one day, fiddling in the darkroom, discover the gem in the confusion around it.) This one, though, I kind of knew when I framed it that it was a decent image. I did not pose it, despite the apparent intentional composition of the elements. It was just there.
I suppose you could say I’ve been lucky in my seeing. I’ve noticed things. Not always, and I’ll never know how much I did not see, but of the memories and material I have there are some fine things. And many of them I have concrete touch-points, a photograph or the thing itself, to remind me.
I’ve had a print of this one lying around for decades. I thought it time to share a small slice of time. It is my birthday, after all, and the past if what led to the present. This was something I thought beautiful found along the way.