I've been making a living as a photographer since the mid 1970s - for the last 18 years as a medical photographer. I still get a thrill out of watching a print develop, and I still see the photographic process from noticing something, capturing it on film, and hanging the result on the wall as magic! Nowadays, since my job involves more computer graphics than true, wet photography, I've had to content myself with reverting back to photography as a hobby. I'll do the odd paying job, but I prefer to take photos for fun.
I've been called a dinosaur. I really love using and working with older cameras, and I'm not a believer in autofocus or any of the other "aids" to make a camera foolproof. There's an old saying that if you make something foolproof, only a fool would want to use it. Another says that if something's not there, it can't go wrong. This is why I try to encourage beginners to start out with simple, basic cameras rather than lash out on the latest electronic gadgetry...
Dinosaurs are not extinct!
How it started? My relationship with photography started at the age of nine, when I was in boarding school in Bedford, England. A pal and I both had Kodak Box Brownie 620 cameras, and we borrowed a tank and chemicals to develop the first rolls. It took me maybe half an hour to load that film onto a Patterson reel inside a changing bag, using language no stronger than the occasional "Bugger it !!". The negs were hopelessly overdeveloped (Tri-X in summer with a camera equipped with one shutter speed ( 1/50th at f-8!) but - wow! IMAGES! We even managed to produce contact prints using a light bulb and a piece of glass liberated from the school library...
My dad got me an AGFA camera that took 127 roll film, but my interest died down again till about 1976, when I got a chance to play with a colleagues new Praktica LTL. His enthusiasm was unstoppable, and I ended up buying a Praktica of my own when he upgraded to a Nikkormat FT-2. He and I later bought a load of other equipment and started up a photo business in Wales, doing everything from portraiture to weddings and so on. We did OK for a while, but I got a job offer from a Canadian portrait company specializing in childrens portraiture for the US forces in Germany. That was 1979.
There followed two years of hell - Id go into a US Base PX, shoot hundreds of kids, and drive back a week later to show proofs and sell packages. We were given Nikon F-2s with non-metering prisms, for the simple reason that they never, ever failed. Actually it was a pretty good market, till they lost their contract, and I was out of a job. Effectively stuck in Germany, I earned a living driving trucks for a while until in 1984 I heard the US Army was looking for a medical photographer.
Ive been here in Landstuhl Hospital ever since. I was chief of 10th MED LAB's photography department for ten years. Medical photography is perhaps the most challenging field I can think of. There will never be a chance for a re-shoot - you can mess up a wedding and dress everyone up again to redo the main shots, but what about a forensic autopsy? You just have one chance to record a bruise or ligature mark, or a stab wound. Youre working in a crowded environment, with big-footed policemen (and pathologists!) around you, using an F-3, with a ring flash and macro lens with depth of field measured in millimeters. This was where I really learned to trust Nikon cameras: Ive NEVER had a Nikon equipment failure in maybe half a million shots. No kidding!
My own 35mm personal equipment was Olympus - I bought 2 OM1s back in 1979, just to be different. They were excellent, and I put some very high mileage on them in 20 years, but on vacation in Holland I saw something I just couldnt resist, even though my wallet screamed for mercy and started ringing alarm bells: a mint (as in right out of the wrapper) Nikkormat FT-3. I went into the shop, handled (fondled?) it for ten minutes, and came away the new proud owner. Seriously, folks, no Nikon fan could have walked away from that FT-3! Six months later, eBay produced an F3 for me, and a tiny EM. Most of my lenses were Tamrons, with interchangeable mounts, so I could use my old optics on the new system. Now I want to replace my older lenses with Nikkors, one by one as I can afford them. Unless my Lotto ticket saves the day...
I actually made a conscious decision to go with Nikon. I dont want to knock the competition. Ive tried just about everything else - Olympus, Minolta, Canon and all the rest , but there is something about the feeling you get when handling professional Nikon bodies and lenses that says:
"Im built for a lifetime of hard use, for any situation youll ever meet, and Ill never, never let you down. You might scratch me and bend me, but you cant break me. You can take me out in the rain, you can drop me off your desk, or you can cross the Sahara with me around your neck. There is no photograph that I cant take for you. I will still function perfectly when youre long gone and forgotten. In twenty years, somebody will pay more for me than I costed new. I am a Nikon, the finest 35mm camera ever built!"
You should see our 15 year old F-3s here - with the paint rubbed off and brass showing, they still perform like new!
My first real Medium Format camera was a Yashicamat 124-G. We have an ancient Hasselblad at work, but it's not my favourite. I went on to an MF system camera, the Mamiya 645. But I found myself using it only for paying work like weddings. It was just too clumsy and heavy to cart around. Somehow the TLR bug was planted. A Rolleiflex-T followed, then the M645 was sold in favour of the only true "system" TLR you can buy, the Mamiya C330. With three superb lenses, it can do everything the 645 could and more. Meanwhile, my Rollei collection has gained considerably - a couple of Rolleicords, a type 1 Rolleiflex from 1933, and a magnificent Rollei 35S as a please-take-me-with-you camera.
My other interest, apart from collecting classic cameras, is committing aviation. Im a private pilot, and I fly Piper Tomahawks and Warriors at what used to be the old USAFE Air Base at Zweibruecken, Germany. Unfortunately, the Pipers are all low-wing aircraft, and that more or less rules out aerial photography - only one little window on the drivers side, and the wing gets in the way of the photo. Maybe well see a Cessna 172 for hire, and Ill start using it.
If you're just starting out, or just thinking seriously about taking up the ancient art of photography, I hope I can help you. I've had to learn from scratch - it's not difficult but I've made just about all the mistakes you can make! You will too, so learn to laugh at yourself when it happens - everyone else will !
If you're an old hand, I hope photography has given you as much joy as it has me !
If you think I might be able to help you, just e-mail me. I'll try to get back with you as soon as possible. I've tried to be as accurate as possible with my descriptions of the various cameras I use, but if you catch something glaringly wrong, don't be shy: let me know, okay?
Copyright © 2001 by Mike Graham. All rights reserved.