As I prepare for my voyage to Italia, one of the most pressing questions is not what clothes I should pack, how much it will cost me, or even where I am going to sleep in Rome. No, those matters are not that important. Instead, I have been focusing on a much more important issue – what camera should I bring? Shall I go all-digital, or give the old film SLR one last glory ride, shooting the hills of Tuscany or the streets of Siena?
I have always considered myself a bit of a shutterbug. I was fascinated by photography when I was very young. When my sister was born in the mid ‘70s, Dad bought a big Minolta SLR camera, and he went on a photographic tear. He had a lot of subjects: I was playing football, my brother was jumping his bicycle, and my sister was being a cute little girl. As I got older, I began to play around with the camera. At first, it was too damned difficult to shoot a picture since the camera weighed about as much as a Shetland pony. I needed something smaller.
Through the years, I had several cameras: Instamatics, Polaroid, Super 8mm. I began to hone my skill by taking pictures of some incredible things, including: vicious shark attacks on my sister’s Barbie dolls that took place in the bathtub; a homemade Mr. Bill doll being thrown from the garage window; phony bicycle accidents in the backyard; a dozen plastic model cars or planes in flames on the ground; plastic Army men meeting their maker; dead birds. Ansel Adams ain’t got nothing on me.
But then I elevated my game. One summer, on a family vacation to Lake Placid, I took pictures at the Ausable Chasm, an incredibly beautiful natural sight in Upstate, New York that proved I was getting it. I had read books about light and aperture, shutter speeds and shadows. Mom almost passed out as I hung precariously over the edge of a cliff to get a winning shot. When I got those slides back from the lab, I hurriedly placed them in the carousel – most of them sideways – and marveled at my own work. For my money, photography is just about the most important invention of modern man. Without the flash-powder images of the Civil War it would just be paintings. World War I would have just been stories. And entire family histories would seem like fantasy.
About six years ago, I embraced digital photography. But then my photographs turned into mere snapshots. There was nothing deep about them. The biggest disadvantage is not being able to hold an image after it is taken. There was always something cool about waiting to get the pictures back from the lab. It could take days, and by the time you opened that envelope and saw the images of, say, the family vacation, you were ready to relive it. Each image told another story, maybe one you had already forgotten. But to hold the picture was almost to hold that memory. Now, a picture is taken on a digital camera, shows up instantly on a tiny little screen and then is downloaded into a computer. Many are never seen again. What a shame.
However, all signs point to me buying the DSLR. Now comes the battle over which one to get. To make that decision, I will spend a lot of time online and then head straight to my local Mom-and-Pop camera store. I always prefer such an establishment over the big box places. They will feel my pain and hear my message, and I know that when I finally plunk down my cash, they will have helped me make the right decision. This is not something I want to regret or think about any longer.
I have a trunk in my home that is filled with photos. They range from my childhood pictures, taken, of course, by someone else, and chronicle my life and those around me. It is the one thing that is priceless to me. If my house were to burn down, the only thing – I did not say person or pet – I would want to save is that trunk. It is truly irreplaceable, and in this disposable world, that is a pretty big statement.
I’ll be heading out to shop for this DSLR shortly with the knowledge that photo retail is the only way to go. I’m yours. Treat me well and send me off to Italia armed and ready to record a few more memories I’ll cherish as the years continue to roll along.
Michael Martino is long-time journalist and current columnist for the Long Island Press. The Long Island, New York-native is also the father of Julia.