Not long ago I discovered an antique store on Facebook that is quite close to where I live. I was loath to go by myself and even more wary of getting lost as I am a terrible navigator. I could get lost turning around in the shower…my sense of direction is non existent. Today was finally the day that a friend who is also interested in old-timey stuff made a date to meet at “Treasures of Yesterday”, conveniently equidistant to our homes. I was confident I could find my way after consulting the map several times and writing directions down. One right turn turned into a U-turn as I turned left instead. On a positive note my poor sense of direction has resulted in my excellence at 3-point turns. I arrived at my destination none the worse for wear and patted myself on the back as got out of the car to see just the cutest little shop located on a busy working farm.

In the 1600’s Nostalgia was considered a disease and harmful to your health, early doctors believing it could ultimately result in death.  Physicians now know that the feeling of nostalgia releases dopamine to the brain which creates quite a pleasant feeling. We also know that our memories evoked from nostalgia are not as accurate as we might think they are.

As my friend and I entered into this environment almost entirely made up of artifacts from our earliest memories (I may or may not have been the most vintage piece in the place) we both waxed nostalgic but from such different viewpoints. Our nostalgic feelings were not equal to the other – our life experiences and background are infinitely different. Growing up on a farm she could relate to the accoutrements of farm life scattered throughout. She remembered dishes from her grandparents and aunts that I had no frame of reference for and, likewise, the hobnail milk glass vase that has been in my life since day one and still graces my office today held no point of nostalgia for her. Nostalgia is deeply personal but listening to each others memories and accounting of the objects in our view was a wonderfully delightful way to spend a few hours.  The dopamine was definitely flowing!

And then, there it was. Sitting on a shelf. It’s little black bakelite shell a beacon. My heart leapt and my hand reached out. There was no price tag but I knew it was not going to leave my hand. The tricky part was asking for a price without giving away that I was in possession of something so deeply meaningful to me that I would gladly give her my firstborn. What could cause me to feel such a connection, such an absolute flood of nostalgia that I was momentarily overwhelmed and lost for words? This little black box was a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. The very first camera. The first photo I ever took was with a camera exactly like the one I now held in my hand .There was no doubt in my mind that it was coming home with me.  I was already mentally dusting off a shelf. My fingers and toes were tightly crossed that it wasn’t too dear. When she told me the price of $40, she was apologetic and attempted to tell how she came to that figure but I was deaf to all but the fact that it was not going to break the bank and it was coming home.

And here it sits, within eye view, and I hope that I don’t get so used to seeing it here that the magic is lost. For magic it is – the nostalgia and significance overwhelming. And this is where memory is a trickster. I told my friend that this camera was my parents and that in 1969 they gave it to me so that I could take pics of my friends before we moved away. What I failed to remember is that my father allowed my to use the camera when I was seven and we were on a day trip to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park near our home in NS. I had totally forgotten those photos tucked into my old album alongside what I considered my greatest treasure – a photo I took of the Apollo Moon landing and Neil Armstrong descending  as we watched on our 19” B&W TV. So my very first photo was that of a Fawn behind a chain link fence at a wildlife park. 

The very first time I held this simple Brownie camera I was hooked. More correctly, even before I took my first picture I remember begging to be able to give it a try. The act of taking photos intrigued me. I remember my mother telling me how to hold it and how to press the shutter and it seemed so much bigger – back when my hands were smaller. Film was expensive and developing even more so, so not many photos were taken either by me or anyone else in the family. In 1969 man landed on the moon and such excitement there was. I wanted to capture the moment and I remember my mother convinced that disappointment loomed as she thought it not possible to take a pic of the TV screen. I did anyway and I still treasure that photo today. Looking at it, I can tell what it is, but barely. 

It wasn’t until today, standing that store, with the Kodak Brownie in my hand that the significance of that moment hit me. It took many decades from that first “try” to get to where I am today. Confident in my skills and still going for the “try”. So much easier to do in the day of digital photography where you can get as snap-happy as you want with no film or development costs. Let’s not talk about the cost of equipment. My successes get shared and my failures get deleted. The moon-landing was the beginning of a life-long love affair with the night sky pairing well with my love of photography. I love a challenge and astrophotography is a great one. 

The next adventure for me was when I went away on a school trip to London England in 1973. For Christmas my parents gifted me a radically new camera – the Kodak 110 Instamatic. They even bought me an electronic flash to save on all those flashcubes. So many pictures were taken and so many horrible pictures developed from the attempts. The colour from the 70’s and 80’s has faded like the memories but memories they are. That camera took me to Europe twice and into my first foray into motherhood. There was one just like it at the shop today and I may have to make a return visit.

From that time forward I always wanted a better camera. I was gifted my first 35mm camera in 1984. Fixed lens and no real idea of how to use it. It stayed on automatic for its entire life. That was the camera that captured the essence of my children’s childhoods. 

Then the digital age struck and a variety of point and shoot cameras came and went as something better came along. I knew that I wanted to venture into the realm of “real’ photography with a “real” camera but raising four children and working full time left little time for expensive hobbies.  I wanted a camera that you could change lenses and settings to allow you to capture more accurately what your eye was seeing. That dream was a long time coming. I forever had a point and shoot ready to go – usually in my purse and used a great deal for travel.  I didn’t even know how to frame the question to ask for what I wanted. I told my husband that I wanted a good camera and that I was interested in learning photography. Because all he had ever seen me with was a point and shoot, he thought I wanted the best point and shoot that would fit in my purse. He sensed my disappointment immediately and in our conversation he was able to figure out that I wanted a DLSR and for my birthday in 2014 I received my very first DSLR – a Canon Rebel T3i. No tripod…my very first attempts at aurora photography was taking a deep breath, holding the camera as steady as I could without breathing.  As he had taken some photography classes, he taught me the basics and the rest is history. A few years later a Canon Rebel T7i took its place.  Most recently, my new baby, the Canon R5 mirrorless came into my life and I think this one is here for the duration.  

People often comment, “you must have a good camera” to which I counter “yes, but I taught it everything it knows!”.  Like a fine musical instrument I tune the settings to create the vision and style that is mine.  There is always more to learn and I am eager to try.

And it all began with the Brownie. Welcome home!

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