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Ektachrome and Me

November 1, 2017
BY CHUCK CLEGG - Columnist , Wetzel Chronicle

As those of you who have read my stories for the last dozen years know, I enjoy photography. That simple fact is why I named my column, "Through the Lens." Years ago, those of us who spoke in terms such as, "F-stops" or "depth of field" were sometimes thought to be speaking in a foreign code. It usually meant we used cameras that we manually adjusted the speed and apertures used to take a picture.

Now to be clear, Instamatic cameras of the day were truly automatic cameras. Point and shoot, no adjustments needed. It simply averaged every shot and took the picture. The only adjustment you could make was to use a flash or not. I will admit, I used an instamatic camera, film size 126, when I first began taking pictures. Do you remember when you purchased a camera based on film size? 220, 110, 35 mm were common size formats fifty years ago. In fact, since cameras were first used, there has been nearly seventy different film size formats.

Those first pictures I took were never just the way I wanted them to look. I had some crazy idea that if I held the camera just right, I might get a picture that looked like Ansel Adams may have taken it. But no such luck. An instamatic camera was never going to take an image such as Ansel took on his manually adjusted camera. Shades of black and white that gave you depth of field and shadows that were true in imagery. I can remember looking at a photograph taken by Ansel Adams and wishing I could take such a picture.

My first good camera was an Argus Cosina, STL 1000. It was top-of-the-line for the day. It used 35 mm film, and I focused by looking directly through the lens. I was in tall cotton when it came to taking pictures, or at least I thought. I quickly began to understand, in order to take good pictures, I still had a lot to learn. Slowly, and with a lot of exposed film, I began to learn how to take a picture.

I still remember going out in the desert and sitting my camera on a tripod and trying to capture the image with the same quality Ansel Adams had done. I came close, but still it took several years until I began to understand that it was about depth of field, shutter speed, film speed, film type, lighting and being at the right location at the right time. The quality of a picture is only achieved when everything is correct. Back in those days the photographer made those choices.

Recently, I viewed the pictures of two photographers and their lifetime of work. Unless you have lived under a rock for the last forty years, you probably already know that Larry Tackett and his wife Denise spent nearly twenty five years taking pictures in places most of us only see in National Geographic. Larry gave a talk recently at the college, and he explained how he and his future wife at the time were working at the University of Arizona. An expedition to gather seas sponges, used for medical research into cancer, needed two photographers. They secured the job. That bit of luck began their adventures into underwater photography. Right place at the right time became their life's work.

As I sat there, in the darkness of the room, watching the screen display extraordinary beautiful pictures, I was reminded how a picture can be a piece of art. And when you consider they were taken below the surface of the ocean, they were even grander. The pictures were so well taken, they took on a 3-D appearance from my view point. Many of the images were of sea life so small they could have fit on the tip of your finger. Truly remarkable pictures by two highly skilled photographers.

Larry once told me that near the end of the Tacketts' time working under water in the South Pacific, they were asked by National Geographic to do some filming with a movie camera. Larry explained, if they had realized how their moving pictures would turn out, they may have spent more time with movie cameras filming life under the sea.

I can understand his fascination with moving images. After all, I have spent a life time filming through the lens of a movie camera. But, in the case of Denise and Larry's pictures, I am glad they used only still cameras. Pictures taken by them will be around helping to preserve images of species that environmental changes may someday erase. Future generations will be able to see tiny seahorses held tightly to a sea fan in the ocean's current. Movie film captures wondrous images, but Denise and Larry's pictures capture precious moments in time. You can look into the eyes of creatures only one quarter of an inch in length.

The pictures Larry and his wife took remind me why I began taking pictures. I never reached the level of quality they have, but still I enjoyed taking pictures when I calculated the f-stop and aperture speed.

Denise Tackett, a skilled photographer and diver with over sixty-five hundred dives is no longer with us. But, the thousands of underwater pictures she took in her career will forever be part of the images that shows us what's hidden below the surface of the oceans.

Today with digital cameras everyone is a photographer. Cell phones place a camera in everyone's pocket. I can't deny cells phones take remarkable pictures and video. And rather than wait days for the pictures to return from the lab, they can upload to the world in just a touch of the screen. It is truly an amazing time we live in.

I wonder, would Ansel Adams have used his cell phone to take his landscapes, or would he have still used his large format camera? I would guess he would have used his manual camera. It gave him control of the way he captured the images. Cell phones only require you to point it towards your subject and touch the screen. The phone will even simulate the sound of a shutter. Ansel, Denise and Larry had the pleasure of hearing the mechanical shutter of their cameras open and close as they captured their images.

Listening to Larry speak brought back memories of why I love taking pictures. Someone who has only taken pictures on a cell phone may not even know what we were talking about when we spoke of F-stops and film speeds.

In the not-to-distant future, words describing photography from my time will fade into history. Old photographers like me, who speak of f-stops and Ektachrome, will be thought to be a little senile. But, I grew up in a time when a light meter held in front of my subject helped me calculate my camera setting. I snapped the picture and then sent the film off to be developed. A few days later my pictures returned from the lab. I opened the envelope to discover if my calculations had been correct. Sometimes they were and sometimes they were not. I remember my first digital camera Mary purchased for me. When I returned home from shooting a ballgame she asked how I liked the camera. I explained how I could view the picture almost instantly. She responded, "It sounds like your new camera gives you instant self-satisfaction." She was right, but it will never replace taking light readings of the desert sky and calculating the settings for my next picture as I saw the image, Through the Lens.



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