It all started with a Kodak Instamatic camera - of which the fascination was not in its picture-taking potential, but rather the awesome four-sided flashcube (called a Magicube), which, after unloading its light, would look utterly spent and be great fun to squeeze then stomp on. Having nearly suffered permanent eye damage from looking a Flashcube straight on, I had seen the light: better to be focussed in the darkroom.
But staging a darkroom in a 600-square foot garden apartment occupied by four isn't so easy. Camped in a bathroom no bigger than a closet, my brother and I did everything humanly possible to block out all light using sheets and masking tape, then proceeded to manage trays of chemicals in logical sequence: Developer on the sink, Fixer on the toilet, and Stop Bath in -- what else but -- the tub. When I accidently sat on a tray of Fixer when the urge to go struck during a developing session, my mother agonized over the prospect that her son would be rendered impotent.
My real breakthrough, however, came some years later when, during an under-age visit to a local OTB, I came to realize -whilst losing the money I had made working after-school jobs by betting on horses with names like Bloated, Steroid Sam, and Circumsized -- that it would be far better to capture pictures of unshaven, pot-bellied, cigar-toking losers than to become one myself. I'd have to abandon the dream of hitting a trifecta and buying a Leica, and make due with my new Magicube camera instead.
Before long, I would come to realize, however, that flash cameras are ill equipped for capturing images of strangers without them knowing it. Until I could afford something better, I needed something else. My answer came when being drilled sans Novocain for a cavity, while simultaneously enduring the pain of listening to my dentist wax poetic about a picture-perfect round of golf he had had the day before. With every nerve-piercing proclamation of 7-iron prowess, I desperately sought an escape. So I began to envision capturing beautiful landscapes on film ... how light and shadow could harmonize to end pain as we know it. In this state of faux nitrous oxide hallucination, I imagined "keeper" photographs good enough to tingle even the most sturbborn eyetooth.
These thoughts continued when a stepparent from Britain entered my life and I heard the word "lovely" as often as a conjunction. Soon I came to believe that every situation encountered in a normal day was like a cup of tea, waiting to be poured through the aperture of the moment and sipped at a shutter speed that the situation deserved... Even if life's camera was set to "b" for bulb -- the shutter speed that keeps going until it gets the finger.
Today, I've come full circle. I can afford a decent camera and Novocain when getting dental work, I've substituted "Nice!" for "lovely" in my normal lexicon, and I have allayed my mother's fears by fathering two wonderful children. Photography has become a passion ... the perfect way to connect creativity with outdoor adventure, with fondness for gadgets, with a channel for expression.
I'm often asked what the three or four most important elements of a good photo are. But you simply can't provide a Bento Box explanation for everything in life, particularly if it involves understanding why people eat food uncooked. Indeed, there's no use in trying to describe a photographer's work with a boatload of blather -- such as that which has been written here in mockery of the "coffee table books" you can find in the photography section at Barnes & Noble (have you ever seen somebody actually buy one of those?). It's much easier to simply state that the real mark of a great photograph is how it makes you feel. That knowing less about the photographer is actually better than knowing more.