Technology Autobiography: Camera

If I had to choose one platform to tell my life story, I would choose cameras. Today, I almost always bring my digital camera with me when I leave my house to go out with my friends or family. Taking pictures is important to me because I can capture images that depict memories of fun times I share with my loved ones. In addition to the memories of these times which are stored in my mind, I like to have tangible replicas of the energy felt at a particular time.  Pictures which I took myself and printed in my own room adorn my walls and desk. However, I remember a time when cameras were not so user-friendly. Over the past decade, cameras have advanced rapidly into the digital culture, personalizing the process from start to finish. The once drawn out procedure of photography has transformed into a much faster method, yielding the immediate gratification as a result of digitally viewing, editing, and printing pictures.


Photographs have always been present in my life. As the oldest child in my family, it seems like almost every moment of my baby through toddler years was photographed. Fascinated by their first child, my parents took many pictures of me with a simple camera, refilling the film canister every twenty-four frames and replacing the AA batteries as needed. I remember several birthday parties, soccer games, and everyday activities when my mom would be ready to capture the perfect moment on her camera, only to find that the batteries had been depleted, or the film had unexpectedly run out. A small number dial located on the top of the camera could tell how many pictures were left, but in the heat of the moment, one hardly ever checked to see just how many snapshots remained. The film rolls were then taken to the grocery store and picked up a few days later in order to view the 4×6” photos. The limited amount of exposures had its drawbacks as well as its benefits. Since the pictures were not able to be seen at the time they were taken, we had to rely on amateur photography skills to know if the subject even made it into the frame. This could lead to an off-centered photo, people with their eyes closed, a blurry subject, or many other undesired effects. A second picture could be taken to be safe, but with only twenty-four pictures per roll, this was not always a great means of security. Conversely, some of my favorite pictures are ones where the people aren’t ready, the view is skewed, or the person holding the camera accidentally took a picture of their feet. I can see the joys everyday life in the rawness of these photos. While sometimes a particular scene is desired for the photo, an accidental snapshot of a scene can communicate a strong message as well. Regardless of the content of the photos, we were dependent on other people, companies, and machinery to produce our tangible memories on a small piece of paper.


I remember the first time I heard about a digital camera. When I was in fifth grade, my cousin told me about the newest kind of camera. She had a friend who had just bought a digital camera. Once a picture was taken, it would show up on a screen on the back of the camera. It seemed amazing to immediately be able to view the picture. Instant viewing would mean the end of wasted exposures on a roll of film because the picture could be reviewed and deleted or retaken an unlimited amount of times. It certainly sounded better than waiting months until my disposable camera ran out of film and I took it to the store to be processed for a week. At first I imagined this camera as a fictional invention, one that could be made in the distant future, but not then. On the other hand, if it was real, surely a digital camera would be very expensive, and I would probably never see one.


In my naïve age, I was not aware of the possibilities of rapid technological advancements in the realm of photography. I never expected the camera I had seen my parents use through my whole life advance to anything greater. Computers were newly popular at the time, and a few of my friends had cell phones. I was aware that those fields were changing, but to me, the camera was a category of its own. The method of taking pictures and having them sent away to be printed and returned worked, so I did not anticipate the technology improving, especially not at the accelerated rate at which it developed.


Reflecting on my source of the information, I was not quite surprised to hear something so futuristic and “cool” from my cousin. She was always up to date on the newest technology, fashion, and music. I often looked to her to see what the new trends were. The concept of a digital camera seemed like a high-tech device, but I do not think I would have had the same attraction to it if I had not heard about it from my cousin. In my perspective, she had great credibility in the way of cool new things. At the time, people were being drawn to the idea of a digital camera as a new technology and means of taking pictures. The viewing screen was previously unheard of, and the advancement was unpredicted by most people. Innovative technologies intrigue people, inviting them to explore new options and special features. Digital cameras completely changed the face of amateur photography and many people were catching on, myself included. The mere mention of a “cool” camera with new capabilities meant that the norm of photography was changing, and I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of the new age of the camera.


To my surprise, digital cameras became the newest technology and soon they would become more common than the film cameras. Two years later, I received my own digital camera for Christmas. Initially, my excitement was attributed to the fact that I had my own camera. I no longer had to ask permission to take a picture of something that fascinated me. My mom would not worry that she was sacrificing valuable shots as I took pictures of trivial things, as she often did with good reason. Now I could take pictures of anything my heart desired and not necessarily have to print them out. At any time I chose, I could download my pictures to my computer via a small memory chip. They could remain a digital file forever, where I could look back at my memories, but not have to pay for prints, only to have them lying around my room. Beyond the excitement of my ownership, I quickly realized that the possibilities were endless with digital photos. Prior to the digital camera, if I wanted to crop a photo, I would use my scissors after it was printed out.  As I skimmed through the manual, I learned how to crop and enhance my photos before they even left the camera. Once I loaded the files onto my computer, I could learn to use Photoshop and further edit my photos by adding text and altering colors. After I had selected the images I wanted, I could take them to a store to have them printed or order prints online and have them shipped to my home. Now that the photographing process had so many options, I could never imagine going back to the old film canister method. I was in control of this procedure and I loved being engaged in every step from taking the picture to hanging it on the wall.


I used my digital camera to document every event of eighth grade through high school because I loved capturing my experiences in a still photograph. Over time my parents have accumulated a cabinet full of old pictures, ranging from their college-aged photos to more recent photos of my siblings and me. Looking through these memories intrigued me as I grew up because when people smile for a camera, they do not realize what this picture could communicate at a later time. For example, I have a picture of my mom with a few of her siblings and their then-girlfriends and boyfriends at a pool. While they smiled for the camera on that summer day, I am sure that they did not think that I would look at this picture someday, wondering what their lives were like before they met their spouses, had children, and became the people I know them as today. Also, their outfits and hair styles vary drastically in comparison to the fashions of today, which also amuses me. This idea fuels my love for documenting memories with a camera. Today, I am glad that I took so many pictures of my own experiences because I am enjoying them six years later. I hope that one day my children can look at my photos and appreciate them as much as I appreciate my parents’ photos.


Keeping up with new camera advancements, I recently bought my second digital camera; however, this one has the capability to take pictures underwater. This has given a new range to my photography experience.  My underwater camera is a must-have when I vacation at the Jersey shore each summer. My cousins and I spend most of our days in the ocean, an area where cameras could never go before. Now I never miss an opportunity because I can be right there in the action without being worried about water damage. In addition to my underwater camera I have purchased a personal photo printer. This allows me to print photos in my own room, never even having to leave the house.  Considering I have lived through the digital revolution of the camera and I have been so affected by the developments, I now fully appreciate the value of having a personal connection with each step of the process from capturing the image to printing it out minutes later.  Many steps of the photography procedure have been altered in the past ten years, and as evidenced by my earliest memory of a camera in comparison with my camera today, the industry continues to introduce more modern, high-tech, user friendly models.


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