Our family recently ventured west on a sixteen-day road trip to the Grand Canyon. Typically on family vacations, I’m the designated photographer and am responsible for documenting our adventures as they unfold. I’m never at a loss for cameras. There are a multitude of options and I use all of them. I love my role. On this trip, however, something strange and unexpected happened. We parked at the Colorado Monument and scrambled to get out of the car. Mesmerized. We were mesmerized by the beauty surrounding us. “Can you believe this?!” we said to one another. “It’s gorgeous. Every direction I look…stunning,” we remarked. I opened the back of the van, unzipped the camera bag, and laid out my options. And then:
Michael (11yrs): oh cool! I’d like to use a camera! Which one can I have?
Celia (8yrs): Me, too! I want the Instax.
Kevin (husband): I’ll take the digital. I want a zoom lens.
Michael: mom? Which one can I use?
<more awkward silence>
Celia: Does the Instax have film in it?
Me: …….yes, yes it has film in it.
<awkward silence as Kevin walks off with digital camera>
Celia: Thanks mom. <wanders off>
Me: Well, it’s just that, you know, theses are film cameras.
Michael: So? The Instax is a film camera and we use it.
Me: Well, you know, I mean…it’s not like digital. You only have so many frames to shoot and I only brought so much film. These aren’t like the Instax because you have to meter and focus. ….You’ll have to meter for the light.
Michael: Ok. I can meter for light.
Me: Yeah, well, I mean…you’ll also have to manual focus. You’ll need to meter for light and manual focus. For each image. And you only have so many images on each roll. Michael: Ok. I can do that. How do I meter for the light?
Me: <showing him> I only have so much film. I’m excited you want to do this…I just want you to be thoughtful about how much you shoot because I only brought so many rolls and I can’t just buy more on the road. ….<voice trails off as he says>
Michael: Ok. Got it. How do I focus?
Me: <showing him>
Michael: Great! Cool. This is so cool!!
Me: It is so cool! I just…you know….we just need to be thoughtful about what we shoot and how we shoot. You know…just maybe think about the image you’re wanting to capture because…
Michael: I can be thoughtful. Oh look at that! <wanders off>
My children often use my full frame digital camera and the Fuji Instax and I think nothing of it. I encourage them. I adore the images they make. So why was I having a mild panic attack over the film cameras? In truth, because I’m new to film and, in striving to improve and educate myself, I lost my courage in over thinking. I forgot how to have fun with film. I spent hours researching different types of 35mm and 120mm film for this trip. I agonized. I rationed each roll. I took it very seriously. I thought so much about it that I nearly didn’t shoot more than a frame or two at each stop for fear that I’d run out or SCREW IT UP. In short, I forgot how to play.
As we explored the Colorado Monument, the kids were amazed not only the beauty surrounding us, but by the fun of shooting different cameras. Michael said, “This Pentax is fantastic! I love the way it feels in my hands. And it makes such a cool sound when I push the shutter. It sounds different than your other cameras.” And Celia added, “I like that camera because it’s backwards when you look through the top.” (Yashica mat124g) They were so joyful and engaged. And after a few days of me following them around and trying to casually remind them to meter and focus, I took a deep breath and wandered off on my own.
There was definitely a learning curve.
There were a few days of this back and forth banter before I let go and focused on my own camera. The kids remained overjoyed and engaged and inspired. I trusted that they would find their own way. And you know what? They did. After a few days, they found their own groove with their cameras.
In retrospect, it’s hands down one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had with photography. In a certain way, I love their images more than any I took because of the story surrounding them. I think what I love most is that it provided a different way for us to be together as a family. This will be the first photo album (not polaroids) that all of us have contributed to. It will be a shared vision. I love that more than anything else. And I love that I was present in photos… even if I was sometimes blurry or over/under exposed. In reality, that’s my life...sometimes blurry and over/under exposed. It speaks volumes. It’s real. I’m not sure what it was about this particular trip that encouraged them to grab for cameras and wander off. I do know it’s a trend that will continue. And I’ve been shooting film more freely ever since. I found my courage to play again.