I have always enjoyed photography and still do, even in a wheelchair.
My first camera, in 1972, was a Kodak Instamatic, it took cassette films of about 12 negatives and I had to badger my mum into processing it. Of course I could only afford black and white photos, or rather only convince mum to get me black and white. It was a few years later when cheaper colour, processing included with films came in.
The first photo I took was on Christmas morning at Church. Everyone leaning into the photo and many still excluded, this was a camera where you didn’t see what you were taking. The viewfinder was next to the lens and it wasn’t until you got the photos back you realised Aunty Fanny had no head and Uncle George wasn’t even in the photo. In these days of digital photos via phones, it’s difficult to comprehend such limitations.
I used to so love photography, as I grew up the cameras and equipment I had improved. I started processing my own photos, both black and white and later colour. When I met my wife, Mary I was able to invite her up to my darkroom, quite genuinely, without any puns about enlargers or seeing what develops. We both used to love going on photo expeditions then processing the photos.
Before we met, Mary had gone to the same camera shop as me, looked at the same two SLR cameras and decided against the one I bought. Not because she thought it a worse camera, but she thought it was a bit gimmicky. The traffic light exposure system didn’t appeal to her. It appealed to me. Red for too dark, orange for almost, green for go. Good old Pentax ME.
Later on, I did find working in photography took the joy out of it for me. Probably like the plumber whose house needs taps fixing, or the cleaner with a dirty house, or the builder with a broken door. When we were married, Mary had to give me a nudge to take photos of our children. Taking hundreds of photos of other children took the novelty away.
Oh how I wish digital had been around when I ran my photography business in the early 1980’s. I had to pay all of the up front costs of film and processing, hoping to sell enough packs of photos to make money when I did a photo shoot in a store. Portraits, weddings in fact everything I did would have been simpler and cheaper if I could have shown the results instantly to clients and just processed what they liked. Plus of course with digital you can take unlimited numbers of photos, instead of the 12-15 in medium format or 36 in 35mm per roll of film. Then with digital, you just print the ones that work, oh the joy. Mind you I now have tens of thousands of family photos on my PC when I used to just have hundreds of negatives. So there are limitations, digital makes us lazy. With film you shoot sparingly. Plus of course now everyone has a camera so I guess professionals find it harder to sell any photos. Most people just can’t ‘see’ the quality difference.
Fast forward to me now. Photography in a wheelchair. It’s a challenge, have you thought about angles and heights from a wheelchair. When I used to take photos I would, crouch, kneel even lie on the ground to get the angle I wanted. It did surprise me no one called the police or an ambulance when I lay on a path at night in the 1970’s taking time delay photos of passing cars. Back to now. At the very least I would want to be able to use a tripod and take higher angles. In a wheelchair, especially one without a riser, everything is one height. At least within a few inches. You can use a selfie stick to increase angles and heights a bit, but they are not ideal. The last one I used broke, fortunately just after removing my phone. I also find now that I just don’t have the physical and mental energy for photography, both taking and editing. If I take photos at all these days it tends to be on my phone. Mary takes most of our photos now and there are a lot unedited. You are probably thinking, ‘edited, What is he on about?’ If you just take photos and use them, that’s great. I have the curse of a professional past. It’s hard for me to look at a photo without seeing tonal, colour or cropping issues. That’s just the basics, if I really look, I can tweak a photo for ages.
Much as I enjoy the convenience of PC photo software, I miss a darkroom. There is something about the direct connection of chemicals, an enlarger and handling the negative and prints yourself that you lose with digital. Yes it’s messy and time consuming and takes skill and trial and error, but there’s nothing quite like it.
I find it very interesting that with the higher and higher definition photos and video we can now get, the latest style is low quality, scratched, black and white and out of focus. I guess we kick back and long for an earlier simpler time. Even current movies wash out the colour and deliberately shoot into the lights to get flare, they use hand held and out of focus shots. Still it’s helpful with clothing, I don’t need to buy new ones when my trousers get torn, just claim it’s a fashion statement. Torn joggers are the same as jeans aren’t they?
I wonder if we will reach a time when disability will be the desirable norm. People have become too perfect so they will want to be limited and broken. Just musing, not being serious. Although it’s not that far fetched, glasses for fashion rather than need are a real thing.
On a related topic. No it’s quite distant, but my mind jumps. I often hear people say they wish they could have a Blue Badge. I guess my answer would be, “wouldn’t it be great to have any plus without it’s associated negative.” A Blue Badge is a necessary thing for many people who struggle to walk far. Not all problems are visible, they may not be in a wheelchair, they could have heart or lung problems. I do object to able bodied family using the Blue Badge of their disabled family member. If you are thinking you fancy a Blue Badge, remember they come as a result of limitations, not as a prize.
Back to photography, (you knew I would get back to it J-B, didn’t you). The other weekend we were taking a group shot of Mary and I with a couple of our family who were visiting. Thinking the Quaker garden would be an ideal backdrop we headed there. But we forgot to take a tripod. Mary tried balancing the camera on a bench arm, a bin lid, a bench arm and brick, bin lid and brick then eventually the bin lid with a brick on its end. We all stood with an arbor behind us. An arbor that was home to a wasps nest as we discovered. Not the ideal location to stand still.
Self timers don’t go well with swatting wasps. Neither do smiles come naturally when you are avoiding being stung. At first I tried to operate the self timer, but discovered that the 10 seconds timer was insufficient for me to wheel back to the group and line up. So our son pressed the button. In the end we did get photos. Even some where we were all smiling.
Photography is great fun, I do still enjoy taking the odd photo and it is possible to take good ones, even in a wheelchair. I try to do things I used to get pleasure from, wherever I can. There are new limitations, but some can be overcome. In case I have waffled too much, very unlike me. Let me summarise.
1/ use a selfie stick to increase the angle you can take photos from in a wheelchair.
2/ take lots of photos, you can just use the best
3/ use a self timer, if necessary get someone else to start it
4/ have fun.
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