Her Canon AE-1

My mother had the choice between a camera and a car for her graduation gift. She chose the camera. A Canon AE-1 model rested in her hands, and subsequently- her closet.

For two decades.

That camera was present at every significant and slightly insignificant event throughout my childhood. I can remember modeling for her in our magnolia tree, and holding my baby brother, strategically placing his face between the waxy green leaves. Those are the moments I can hold in my hand, as long as I like. That’s why I always remember them with ease. That’s what makes me smile.

Digital photography swept the globe and she followed the trend, posting photographs taken with the new wave of Canon model cameras. Slightly less nostalgic are the moments viewed via Facebook albums. Still sweet, nonetheless. But what was so vastly different between the experience of looking at a photograph taken by the same photographer? The answer: everything.

With the AE-1, you could hear the shutter open and close. The sound in my ears brings me joy. I can’t explain why. I suppose it has to do with the fact I was a child, and everything was fascinating to me then. The shutter noise on the digital camera seems boring to me… and there could be a reason for that, too. (Comment below to see if you guess right.)

Loading the film seemed like a magic trick, and winding the film back into the canister was even more magical. Riding with my mother to Wal-Mart to have the film developed was also a treat, because she always bought us an ICEE and let us ride on the “buggy” through the isles as we shopped. Yeah, we broke the rules. And we had a damn good time.

And then there was the unveiling of each printed photograph. Carefully thumbing through each image, she gave particular attention to the moment captured. Flaws, such as light noise or a finger in front of the lens, didn’t matter, as long as the moment was there. That is one thing that never changed.

Placing photographs in books was also a fun occasion, but most of our photos remained in the small paper sleeves they came packaged in from the store. They were everywhere, but we were always careful with them. They were our treasures, and it’s still always a treat to find one and revisit those moments that haven’t been touched in years.

Those moments are special. The camera that captured them was special by association. So, it was a monumental moment when I unwrapped the AE-1, gifted to me by my mother for Christmas when I was the milestone age of thirty. On the tag, she wrote- Yes, it was mine. Full circle.

I used it almost immediately. I took it hiking with my boyfriend and me. I took special photographs of my boyfriend and daughter. I took it to an event and unashamedly snapped photographs like my mother before me, loud as hell. It’s an antique, it’s supposed to be loud.

Unfortunately, I forgot to magically wind the film back into its canister before opening the back door to retrieve that film. I shut that door as quickly as possible when I realized what I had done. My heart sank. I had been so used to the immediate satisfaction of viewing my digital images on the back of my own cameras that I had missed one of the most important steps of film development. I thought, maybe I shut it so quickly that the rest of the pictures are okay. I transported the roll to Wal-Mart Supercenter. (Our small town had grown since then.) I waited a week before I received the phone call.

There were six good photographs. (Good meaning, not totally black.) Four of which had light pollution everywhere, making it nearly impossible to see the moment. A hard lesson to jot down in the books, and a disappointing first experience, but even so, it was a lesson.

I placed the camera carefully back into its bag. One day I’ll retrieve it and take great photographs and remember those moments. But for now, it rests in my closet.

For now, digital albums on Facebook will have to do.

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