the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

THE LION IN WINTER

Ralph Adrian Perkins,

Ralph Adrian Perkins, June 12, 2013. 1/100 sec., f/1.8, ISO 100, 35mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

I  AM AMAZINGLY BLESSED TO BE ENTERING OLD AGE, STILL TRAILING MY FATHER BY ABOUT TWENTY-THREE YEARS. Defying the odds, statistical probabilities, and luck, my personal North Star is still, at 84, providing me with a point of light to steer by. I cannot  imagine a world in which he is not just a few miles ahead of me, gently insisting, “this way.” And, years after the worst the world has to offer has long since stopped generating any panic in me, the thought of life without him remains unimaginable, like trying to envision the world without gravity, or sunlight.

I can’t begin to catalogue the thousands of ways his wisdom and patience have tempered and shaped me, but it’s worth singling out  his influence on my visual sense and curiosity as a photographer. I remember his intrepid search for beauty, armed with the simple tool of a Kodak Pony 828 camera, a device which both intrigued and frustrated him. During my childhood, the Pony was the official recorder of dreams, events, and possibility for the Perkins clan. We all cheered when it delivered what Dad saw in his mind’s eye. We all offered sympathy and encouragement when he asked it to see beyond its powers, when a set of Kodachrome slides entered the “better luck next time” category.

As a designer and illustrator for North American Aviation, then, later, as a fine arts teacher, he had a developed eye for beauty, a genuine instinct for how a visual story was framed and shown. Armed with my first cheap plastic camera, I only knew I wanted my images to be as good as his own. His eagerness became my ambition, and, half a lifetime later, I still regard a picture as “good” if the old man sees something in it.

Like many photographers major and minor, I am happy to make my father a subject in my own work. I am recording, interpreting and saluting his life all at once, and trying, in my halting way, to capture, in his face, all of the wisdom I have drawn from him over a lifetime. It’s a tall order, but he always taught me to go a little bit beyond what you think you can deliver. I remember him pushing the Kodak Pony to its limits, and beyond, in impossible situations. Some projects landed with a clunk, but it was always about the next frame, the coming opportunity.

There was…is….no bad photograph. Just mileage markers on the way, toward “gee, who knows?”

Thank you, Dad, for showing me that the journey is everything.

4 responses

  1. Jamie Watkins

    Love this Michael!!!

    November 14, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    • Thanks, J! This post has received so many kind comments….a tribute to how well Dad is regarded by, well, everyone!

      November 14, 2013 at 11:03 AM

  2. Dan Smith

    Stumbled on your post while gleaning info on my Pony 828. Looked up to my dad and now I’m in that role being the old guy. If you’re still around, thanks for the heartwarming read Michael.

    April 15, 2020 at 10:26 AM

    • Hi, Dan: We are indeed here and so pleased to hear that our post resonated with you. The Pony was a good solid entry-level camera in its day, and I’m amazed at how far my dad was able to stretch its limits, especially on slide film, which is quite unforgiving! Wish someone still made film in its size. Thanks for reading and please come back soon. We post on Wednesdays and Sundays.

      April 15, 2020 at 11:00 AM

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