Film Photography, Stories Told

My first roll of film

When my grandmother gave me a quarter to buy the old Kodak Brownie Starmite II at a garage sale, I don’t think either of us could have predicted that it would spark a lifelong love of cameras, which would lead to a growing interest in photography when I reached middle age.

It was August of 1976. The nation had just turned 200, and I was about to turn nine. I saved my allowance to buy a roll of film. Money in hand, I went to Hook’s Dependable Drugs to buy some Kodacolor II. But black-and-white Verichrome Pan turned out to be far less expensive, and I stood at the photo counter for some time trying to decide. Color finally won. The instructions said to load the camera in subdued light. Taking it a little too far, I first tried to load the camera in my pitch dark closet, where I couldn’t see a thing. So I moved to the bathroom and loaded the camera by night light. And then I went out to shoot. I wrote about the experience here.

Not long ago I dug out my negatives from that first roll of film and scanned them on my new photo and film scanner. I was eager to see some of these images again for the first time in 36 years, for when I got the prints back from Hook’s later that August, I gave most of them away to the children I photographed.

As you might imagine, my photographic skills were terrible! Among my first subjects was our beagle, George. I still have this print, but poor George is just a dot on it as I stood way too far back. My scanner let me enlarge the image.

George

Neighborhood children were my subjects on most of the roll, however. These little girls are Muffy and Dawn, and they came to my back yard to be photographed.

Meredith and Dawn

I was so mad at my brother Rick for stabbing his rubber knife into the frame just as I clicked the shutter on Darin, who is Dawn’s older brother. This negative shows some signs of age and rough treatment.

Darin

This is another neighborhood Dawn, the younger sister of Mike. My brother and Mike have been friends for 40 years now. Sadly, Dawn passed away several years ago. This photo also features the side of our garage and a little bit of my finger in the bottom right corner.

Dawn

One of the neighborhood girls was eager to try my camera, so I let her shoot me and another girl who I can’t identify. Perhaps if the camera had been held steadier I’d recognize her face!

Unidentified girl and me

Seeing these faces for the first time in 36 years was a delight. I wish I had shot more so I could have images of more of the many children in our neighborhood. Alas, we moved in October, and my next roll of film would be of children in our new neighborhood. I’ll share photos from that roll in a later post.

If you’d like to see all the images I scanned from this roll, click here to see the whole gallery.

Our neighborhood was nicknamed Rabbit Hill because
there were so many children. Read about it!

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17 thoughts on “My first roll of film

  1. ryoko861 says:

    You’re an August baby, too?
    These are great! Isn’t it a hoot going through stuff like this? And being able to develop those negatives! Gotta love modern tech! I used to take pictures of my cats. And surprise pics of my family who weren’t too happy about that. I still have them…..somewhere.

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    • Yep. I turn 45 on Sunday.

      I turned this first roll of film into an event. None of the other neighborhood kids ever had a camera before, and here I show up with one all loaded and ready. Everybody wanted to be in the picture! And then when the prints came back from the processor, everybody wanted the print that they were in. I gave most of them away. That’s why I hadn’t seen these images in all these years!

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  2. It’s difficult to separate the pleasure of looking at your photography from the pleasure of taking a trip back to a kinder, more innocent time. But those are wonderful photographs.

    Hooks Dependable Drugs: I remember it well. The Hooks at Glendale was open 24/7 and had a lunch counter. On Sunday mornings, when Mike Williamson and I got on our bikes at 3:30am to deliver The Indianapolis Times newspaper, we always stopped first at Hooks to get our customary cheeseburgers, french fries, and Cokes.

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  3. Great bunch of memories. It is interesting that technology has made the past so much more accessible in many ways. I’ve never been much into family history,but I’m amazed at what has been done with the 1940 census database at ancestry.com and have peeked in on my family being interviewed by the enumerator twelve days before my birth.

    I’m also interested in the fact that your first enthusiasm was for making pictures of your friends while your current blog posts portray no people.

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    • I keep meaning to go look up the 1940 census records for my parents’ families. My dad came along in 1941 in tiny Handley, WV, and my mom in 1945, but her parents had two children prior, one before that census, and lived downtown in South Bend, IN.

      As I scanned these negatives, I reflected as well on how every frame was of people, but most of my photos today are of things. I do take photos of my sons, often with my old cameras, and a few of those photos have really pleased me. But their mother has asked me not to post photos of our sons online, and in the name of peace I honor her wish.

      She was for many years a professional photographer and had a real knack for photographing people. I have a precious few photos of my young sons that she took, always with her Pentax K1000 and its prime (probably 50 mm f/1.7) lens, and find them to be astonishingly good. They’re all framed and sit around my home and office. She had an eye, could work with people to elicit their personalities, and knew how to make her equipment do what she wanted. I admit, her skill always caused me to shy away because I just couldn’t measure up. In those days, I used to think I had zero aptitude for photography. To my delight, over the past few years I’ve learned that to be false. But somehow I still haven’t found the courage to begin photographing people.

      It doesn’t help that I’m a keep-to-myself type. What allowed me to photograph those children in 1976 was that I was extremely comfortable with them, having grown up with them, and that my loaded camera put me at the center of attention. I have a dim memory of not being sure what I would photograph with that film, but when word got out that I was taking pictures the kids came looking for me. Such opportunities are very rare.

      I have a secret deep admiration for street photography. I have a strong desire to try it, but find it very difficult to overcome my natural reticence. I have any number of cameras here that would be great on the street. One day I will make myself go downtown to Monument Circle with one of my cameras and take some pictures of the people passing by. I’m sure they’ll be terrible — but one thing I do know is that so were most of the photos I took with my old cameras at first, and that over time I learned a lot and frequently get pleasing results now. I’m sure it will be the same on the street.

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  4. Wonderful story and pictures. I wonder how many photographers remember the first roll of film they took. I wouldn’t be surprised if having that memory is common among people who later develop a serious interest in photography. I know I remember my first roll also although I only know where one of the pictures is.

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    • I remember this roll because almost everything about the experience brought me so much pleasure. (Well, except the cost of it all; film and developing set me back weeks and weeks of allowance.) I even remember how impressed I was with the matte, bordered photographs that the processor made for me. The colors seemed so vibrant!

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  5. Lone Primate says:

    I knew the day would come. You look at old photos from generations past and you know they’re “old”. They’re black and white. There’s this sense of them coming from another age as a result. But I look at these pictures, taken in colour, and aside from the references to the Fonz they seem like they could have been taken in the past year, and it’s hard to realize that this is nearly forty years ago. That just doesn’t seem possible. It’s even more shocking when I read the comments on the roll and discover that at least two of the girls have apparently died since then, one of them who appears younger than I would have been at the time. That’s extremely sobering. You must have some very mixed feelings perusing theses.

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    • The prints that remain from this roll have a more vintage look. They’re bordered, they have that Kodacolor II color signature, and they’ve aged. Scanning the negatives, weathered and abused as they are, allowed me to tweak them in Photoshop to bring out the best color. It absolutely modernized these images. I find it remarkable that there’s nothing in the clothes or settings, save that one Fonz T-shirt, that dates these photographs.

      After we moved to our new neighborhood in October, I shot a roll of Verichrome Pan in the same camera. I have a photo from that roll of my brother tossing a ball with a boy in the neighborhood who did not live to see 30. Indeed, sobering.

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    • That’s probably how this roll would have turned out, too, if the neighborhood kids hadn’t been so charmed by their opportunity to be in the picture!

      I have gobs of 126 negatives I want to scan in, and some 110 negs too. I’m old enough that these were very common formats when I was shooting them. My scanner is really set up to handle only 35mm negs, so I have to be creative. To scan these 127 negs, I used Scotch tape to attach them to the area in the scanner lid that handles transparencies. I couldn’t get the entire frame, but fortunately it didn’t matter as I stood too far back from my subjects anyway. Even after scanning, I cropped way down to bring out the subjects.

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      • I love to see what I’ve taken, but I’m STILL scanning in negatives from our trip. After eight hours a day, it gets old. But I do enjoy seeing the results.
        Very clever way to rig yours to scan 127 film. Before I had negative carriers I would take mine down too, or put a thin piece of glass over them to keep them flat. But I like your way. It’s very MacGyver-esque.

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