In the early ’50s, when I was about eight, I started lugging around an F Deckel München leaf-shutter viewfinder camera that had been my grandfather’s. Then, driving from Harrisburg PA to Guatemala City before Interstate highways, I started shooting with my Dad’s fancy twin-lens Rolleiflex. It had a flip-up viewfinder enlarger that I loved, which may explain why microscopes and telescopes still intrigue me. Happily, film developing was easy to find and cheap in Mexico and Guatemala, and I still have boxes of prints made from the 2 ¼ by 2 ¼ film, and books full of 35mm negatives, that I collected during the era of CIA skullduggery in Latin America.
My collection of photographic technology took a leap forward when I joined the Navy 12 years later. Assigned to a staff job in the Philippines, I was able to buy a leading-edge single-lens reflex Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II and a bag full of lenses and accessories thanks to cheap prices at the Navy Exchange. Then, after going to Navy flight school in Pensacola, I deployed with my squadron to Vietnam a number of my aircraft photos ended up in the aircraft-carrier USS Constellation’s cruise book (similar to a school year book). I even had some fun with the Spooks in the ship’s Intelligence Center developing and printing aerial shots of a Russian spy ship that I snatched as we flashed past at eye-level.
A few years later, on assignment in Washington DC, I was able to buy some developing and enlarging gear, and began processing and printing in a bathroom at home. Using the toilet seat cover as an enlarger stand, I super-enlarge covert pictures a friend had taken during a Cold War era trip to Russia. Using blow-ups of an off-limits wall map, we discovered and located an unknown Russian space launch facility. About the same time, I became interested in astrophotography, and managed to collect a few photons using a homemade 10″ telescope with a prime-focus adapter for my Pentax. And then digital photography finally reached the consumer market.
My first digital camera was the innovative Nikon 990, a 3Mp two-piece camera with a twist LCD viewfinder, a feature I’ve missed in every camera since. Today I shoot with a fixed-lens Fujifilm X100T viewfinder (my favorite camera ever), a Nikon D50 with a 10.5 mm fisheye, a D90 with an 18-200 zoom and 70-300 Macro, and even an iPhone. Using a Meade LX200 8″ ƒ/7 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and image-stacking software I’ve captured the faint light of distant galaxies. Using a conversion ring, I’m again using resurrected Pentax extension tubes and bellows, plus an Apple MacBook Pro portable computer with focus-stacking software for macro-photography. I’ve been delighted by what I find not just in galaxies far, far away, but also right here on Earth and very, very close.
I used iPhoto and then Aperture for image management, but soon moved to Lightroom for post-processing with the help of Nik/Google plugins. With those digital darkroom tools, I’ve created images that have been used by Web sites, newspapers, and magazines including several cover shots, and I won Grand Prize in the 2006 San Diego Air & Space Museum annual photography contest.
My grandfather’s viewfinder camera is in place of honor in the living room, as is my Dad’s Rolli. But I’m still trying to create just the right image.