alanshills

ALAN SHILS
Warwick PA

When I was about four years old my grandfather gave me a shirt-pocket Kodak folding camera. I pestered my mother to buy film stop at every store along her shopping route, me in the stroller going and then walking back as my ‘limo’ became a full shopping cart. I didn’t know what a ‘war’ was but I didn’t like it because all the merchants had no film because of it.

After the war, I hung around a particular uncle as much as I could because he was not only very cool and had a lot of books he let me browse but he had just purchased a 4 x 5 Crown and 2 ¼ x 3 ¼ ‘Baby’ Graphic with lots of sheet and 120 roll film holders and that huge flashgun. I watched him take family photos and develop and make contact prints of the images. I have since inherited both cameras and their accessories. They are fun.

When I was twelve I built my first darkroom with cardboard walls under my parents’ basement steps near Rising Sun and the Boulevard. I was using a 35mmm Baldanet II camera, and it took me many years to wear it out. My uncle had given me a 35mm enlarger and I bought a lens for ten dollars (somewhere in center city) and mounted it in a Hunts Tomato Paste can that perfectly fit the enlarger’s focusing tube. It used helical focus so I had to solder a nut to the inside of the can and used a bolt as a lever for the focus and locking. I made countless 8x10 prints that I still have and still like.

Ever since I first held the ‘useless’ little Kodak, the camera lens has become a third-eye. I equally like black and white and color. Everything is a photographic possibility – people (all ages), bridges, buildings, trees, car headlights, still life… How do I define a good photograph? I believe it is analogous to Duke Ellington’s definition of good music. To paraphrase the Duke, If it looks good, it is good. I carried a camera every day in high school but not usually during college and have been in and out of the habit over the decades. Currently, I am in ‘full-carry’ mode.

What do I like to photograph? Almost anything that interests me. It would be easier to say what I do not do. I don’t consider myself a wildlife photographer or photojournalist. I never consider myself ‘on vacation’ since I always image whatever catches my eye. Anything can present a photographic opportunity. In high school a friend told me he thought I would have to go to a hospital to get a camera removed. (Would insurance cover that?)

Recently I have been photographing my grandchildren, now ages one and three. They are the most difficult subjects I have ever encountered because I give them no direction at all and must be fully aware of what they may do at any time. I found that I am most relaxed when they are sleeping and I can plan my composition and lighting without dealing with atomic powered little people.

When I met my second mentor in NY, a top quality professional, commercial photographer who conveniently lived around the corner, he taught me wedding and other family event photography. By this time my collection of cameras was growing and I first began shooting special occasions with dual Rolliflexes and then used both the standard and super-wide Hasslebalds. One of the first things I built when I moved to NY (1966) was a full darkroom. The following spring I had to add heat to the basement since I almost froze. It’s no fun trying to warm chemicals to 68 degrees and keep them there while exhaling icicles.

Retiring and returning to Pennsylvania (2001), I began experimenting with digital photography. I bought an inexpensive Olympus D370 and wore it out after about two years and 3,000 exposures. I have exhausted a 5700 and 7900. Currently I using a D200 and want a newer DSLR in the $5K range but I’ll wait until those prices fall. (Worse than the camera’s price is the nagging thought that it will be obsolete by the time I get it home!) But, whatever I or anyone uses, in reality, it’s seldom the equipment that matters; it’s the person running it that counts.

Fortunately, I found the Churchville Camera Club, which is always inspiring as its members are so talented.

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