Wednesday, June 8, 2011

434. I'm A Professional Photographer

When I was seven, I was the proud owner of a 110 camera. I had begged my father for one for months, and like spilling national secrets during Chinese water torture, he gave in just to get me to stop pestering him.

I knew the perfect place to use my brand new fancy 110 camera: Sea World. My parents were divorced, and my father would drive down to San Diego to spend the day with me. He made sure to cram seven weeks of fun into a seven-hour visit, so our schedule was always filled with educational activities and exciting adventures. Sea World was at the top of our list: the famous killer whale Shamu, dancing seals, jumping dolphins, the Sparkletts water fountain show, and those show-offy flamingos.

My father was very good with boundaries and limits. When we arrived at Sea World, we had a little “chat” about my camera.

“MOV,” he said, not unkindly, “I know you are excited about your new camera. Film is expensive though. I have bought you one roll of film with 36 shots; that should be more than enough. When it’s done, it’s done. Don’t expect me to buy more film today. Don’t take lots of wasted pictures, choose carefully.”

I was sort of paying attention, like when the teacher announces you have a test on Friday, but oh look, Denise brought in her new rainbow troll! My second-grade brain focused on all the important words like, “New camera! … Film! … More! … Expect me to buy more film! Take lots of ... pictures!”

I was ready to go.

As we walked through the parking lot, we approached a Hallmark moment of a family of ducks. There was the mama and six fluffy babies waddling along behind her. They were so cute! I had to have a picture. Wow, were they fast. I'd better take another one to make sure I captured the moment just right.

My father walked past me to the ticket booth to pay. It was a long line, but I didn’t mind because I was Ansel Adams documenting the mecca of wildlife here at the Sea World parking lot. One of the ducks flew up six inches in the air. Got the shot! Another duckling stopped to get a pesky bug off its coat. Got it! Two “lost” ducklings appeared out of nowhere to join their mama, I needed a few photos of the dramatic reunion.

My father turned around to hand me my ticket. Right then, my camera made a horrible grinding noise when I tried to wind it.

“Oh, no!” I gasped, “I think my new camera’s broken!” I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. What kind of defective camera were we stuck with?

My father leaned down to inspect the camera.

“Let me have a look,” he said helpfully. He did magic dad stuff, like trying to wind it again, and then he laughed. “Oh, you're just out of film.” He shrugged.

What? Out of film? How was that possible? Had I really taken 36 pictures of ducks?

My father was true to his word. No more film. I carried my little 110 camera along all day, dangling from my wrist, mocking me.

Camera cried out, “Oh, look, MOV, Shamu! Jumping out of the water 25 feet up to touch the graduation hat! Maybe you should get this shot!”

“MOV, look!” camera said a little while later at the next show, “Twelve dolphins jumping out of the water and flipping simultaneously in spiral formation with red and blue lights! This might make a good photo!”

I was enjoying the shows, but I knew I would be enjoying them more if only I could take 500 photos.

Going up in the 100-foot tall Pan Am viewing tower pushed me to the brink. We had expansive views of the entire park below and the city of San Diego beyond. I was desperate to take a photo.

“Dad-eeeeeeeeee?” I asked in the saccharine voice synonymous with I-am-going-to-hit-you-up-for-something-again, “can I pleeeeeeeze have another roll of film?”

“MOV, we talked about this. The answer is no. Please don’t ask again.” His tone said: End of subject.

We walked past gift stands set up all around Sea World (including the base of the viewing tower), all selling 110 film. So much unused potential!

As I ate my chocolate ice-cream cone, I thought about those stupid ducks. How dare the workers of Sea World put them right by the front entrance waiting to be photographed by hapless seven-year-olds! What kind of perverse game was Sea World playing with me?

My father never gave in. He was attempting to teach me a lesson in restraint.

I came across the forgotten developed roll of film the other day. It was in the small blue envelope from the drug store, and in my father’s messy scrawl read: “Sea World, 1975.” There was one photo of a car tire and 35 photos of nondescript blurry brown ducks dissolving into the background of brown bushes.

In the same envelope, I discovered five faded postcards: Shamu, dolphins, seals, walruses, and the view from the Pan Am tower.

("Memories Of Vacation")


  1. oh, i was laughing at this so hard (i too was an over-photographer, and then became a frame hoarder as i got older!) thank god for digital cameras. i don't know what i would do if i still had to use film. but the best part of this post (aside from the thanksgiving turkeys pictured above!) is thinking about that dad of yours sneaking postcards into the envelope for you. so sweet.

  2. My dad is a great guy. Kinda set the bar high for my husband (who is also a great guy!). I am super-lucky on both counts. And my sons are great! (How did they all get stuck with me though?!?)


  3. I had the same conversation with my son a couple of months ago when I handed him my old Canon AE-1. He's used to his little digital and the idea of limiting his shots and then waiting for the film to be developed was an eye-opener. The big surprise (for me) was trying to find a place to get the film developed - not many of those left these days. *sigh*


When you write a comment, it makes me feel like I won the lottery or at the very least like I ate an ice-cream sundae. (This has nothing to do with the fact that I did just eat an ice-cream sundae.)