Things My Father Taught Me: Photography


Monday Memoir BadgePerhaps it was because my introvert tendencies mirrored his that my father understood me more than most adults in my younger years. He made sure I took part in as many experiences and activities as possible.  I learned to ride horses, took dancing lessons, enjoyed junior school drama and music lessons.

Unfortunately, the bolshy truculence of my adolescence shifted our relationship from one of understanding to one of tenuous and polite exchanges.   It was a long time before I realised, through the reading of psychology and child development studies, that without his guidance and encouragement in the formative years, I would not have stepped into the exciting and exhilarating world I now enjoy.

He enjoyed a variety of creative outlets to which he introduced me. Each was well researched before he immersed himself in a new art form.    He collected the equipment beforehand and reorganised his workshop cum artist’s studio cum dark room, which was my brother’s bedroom while he was at boarding school.


Horse riding, ballet, drama and music didn’t make it into adulthood but my father shared his love of photography and that has become an integral part of me.  I love to write and I love to record life with pictures.  Teach a child while he is young and you have him for life, words originally used in the context of spiritual knowledge but are true for everything.

My first camera was a box Brownie and black and white rolls of film next the Brownie 127 which seemed a big jump and was more difficult to handle.  It had a button to release the shutter instead of the lever which was very sensitive to movement.   Standing behind a camera and observing was the perfect introduction into the world beyond myself.  He bought my first box Brownie as a birthday gift when I was very young.  He taught me the rudimentary elements and then let me learn through trial and error. He taught by showing, telling was not his way.

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By the time I had outgrown the camera pictured above instamatic cameras were fashionable; they had flash cubes which opened a world of night photography.

Each time we moved house, my father’s hobby equipment was reduced and when we moved into the apartment there was no place for a darkroom.   This meant we had our films professionally developed and travelled into Johannesburg on Saturday mornings to drop our rolls of film into the camera shop for developing.  Sometime during the week my father collected them and taught me the rudimentaries of composition and lighting using our photographs to illustrate these elements.  Some camera shops gave a free roll of film with each set of prints and of course we took advantage of extra film to go on a special outing.

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I learned the rule of thirds, depth of field and the elements of good photographic composition from my father.  The basics are always true no matter the technology but I  think he would have enjoyed the digital technologies.   He would have enjoyed the spontaneity of today’s point and shoot cameras with their inbuilt cleverness and intuition.  And he would have revelled in the click ability with which we are now spoiled.  I can imagine him spending long hours manipulating photos with the effects inbuilt into many modern photographic software packages.

Today I don’t go anywhere without a camera as I like to illustrate posts with personal images.  I enjoyed the process of taking photos, having to wait while they were developed and then being able to analyse them with my father.  However, I am equally grateful for digital technology that allows us to snap with abandon and not have to worry about the cost of every photo being developed.

By the time I went overseas in the mid-1970s colour film was the in thing while black and white film became the choice of professionals.  I owned a Polaroid camera for a while but the cartridges were expensive.


I met the MOTH (Man of The House) on this overseas trip and together we purchased my Rollei B35 camera which I had until my first digital camera.

I am grateful that my father took time to instil in me a love of photography.  I believe it has made me more aware of my surroundings and I notice the detail in things I may otherwise find unremarkable.  The benefits of any hobby include stress relief, broadening one’s knowledge base but photography helps to document one’s life journey. As a child I loved looking at old photos of family members and hearing stories about people I never met.


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