when i was growing up my dad had a few cameras -
a very cool early sixties model of a polaroid camera -
a no name 8mm movie camera -
and a nikon 35mm still camera.
it was understood that i should have no relationship
to these instruments - it was not encouraged -
i was half my mother and she could not take a picture, therefore i might break it.
it must be said for the sake of this post that my father was not what i call a great photographer.
he knew how to frame an image, he understood the window but beyond that his creativity was subtle.
later he got a camcorder. his videos were similar to his 8mm films. both formats usually involved birthdays, holidays. they included a great deal of my mother or my grandmothers and aunts running out of the shot laughing begging and screaming, “ronnie quit it, ronnie, don’t. i don’t want to be in that movie.”
me neither, actually. to this day i’m not very fond of a camera aimed in my direction unless i pointed it there myself.
the RCA VHS camcorder piqued my curiosity to overturn the house rule that only dad knew how to capture an image.
i made my first "short document" with it out in the back of my grandparents’ home.
though long gone, i still find this place wildly inspirational. it filled up my senses. i stayed for hours in the treetops. i hunted and snooped every inch of the old place. the great folk art shed, the fields, the creeks, the poverty of the neighborhood, the pastures, horses, old cats and dogs.
the old place was green in summer and white and grey in winter. coffee grounds and egg shells were pitched underhand in the field behind the shed; parts of raw chicken were tossed in a ditch in the side yard, where my grandfather burned all of the trash in two black and rusted oil drums.
i lovingly filmed these things with dad’s camcorder one afternoon. i was where i needed to be. i can still feel those images - in the purity of the moment i said the name of what i was filming, out loud - wood - grass - oil drum - ash - chicken.
that last image there - chicken - that one made my dad very angry. i was wasting tape.
he made fun of my now embarrassing narration. it was ridiculous, but his criticism was humiliating and i felt like a freak. i was not to touch the camcorder again.
later, on yearly vacations with my step-mother, dad's movies would always include an image of tree stumps or a rock complete with narration as a silly tribute to me and my first taped document.
he had no idea how he has affected my relationship to making things. it’s not his fault; he was just being honest and it was all he truly knew about cameras. they were tools for documenting those extraordinary posed moments in a family's life. the funny thing is that i totally agree with that philosophy. i frame every shot by the edges. i think about capturing a moment. to document what i see for posterity. whatever it’s worth.