I recently discovered pictures from the very first roll of film I shot. Not an entire roll, but three pictures from the very first time I picked up a camera and walked outside in search of a subject to photograph unsupervised by an adult. They were found mixed together with other pictures taken with the same Brownie camera at a different time, but I was thrilled to discover even the merest breadcrumb-clues of what was going through my head when I first used that essential tool of my eventual profession. I distinctly remember that moment for both the failures and success when the prints came back from the drugstore. The cause-and-effect aftermath lingered in my head years later. But lost pictures are no different than any other undocumented childhood memories: over time, you begin to wonder if certain events of your life actually happened.
This would be me on that same day. I'm about 8 years old. I don't remember who clicked the shutter. It is certainly not a selfie, the Brownie camera doesn't focus very close, and it would take a considerable amount of ingenuity for an 8 year-old to rig up a self-timer on a non-electronic camera lacking in any kind of tripod mount.
The fail. What in the world was I photographing here? It would appear to be a misfire, or that the subject walked away, leaving only footprints, while I was peering into the waist-level view finder that showed only a tiny, backwards image of the scene. But that wasn't the case. What I was trying to do was capture the hills against the horizon that frequently provided blazing sunsets due to our backyard's Western orientation. Timing is everything when it comes to sunsets – such as waiting for an actual sunset to occur. Color is kind of essential too. Furthermore, the Brownie lens focuses fine at a distance, but doesn't provide the necessary reach in a situation like this. Lesson learned: it takes more than having an emotional attachment to a place to get the feeling across.
It looks like I may have called out, "Hey, Allan!", just before clicking the shutter. Allan was a neighbor I frequently hung out with. The picture is not particularly successful, but at least the subject is immediately apparent. The framing is typical of a beginner photographer – placing a subject's head dead center in the frame. If you were to draw two diagonal lines from the corners of the picture, they would intersect right in middle of the the boy's face. As I would learn years later, compositionally, this is a cardinal sin. That is, unless you're trying to be cheeky, or ironic.
Success! I remember jumping out of my skin when I saw this shot, with the snowball in mid-flight streaking towards my other neighbor, Jimmy, the unwitting participant in this photographic enterprise. The thing is, like a GoPro-wielding YouTube prankster of today, I set the whole thing up. I deliberately positioned both of the actors in this little drama. I then urged Allan, a natural athlete (but otherwise a gentle soul), to throw the snowball at Jimmy. With perfect, split-second timing, I got the shot. Back then, of course, there was no internet to share our experiments with the world. This speeding snowball, frozen in time, just went into a drawer, then maybe a box, a closet, an attic. There was little, if any feedback to be had, other than my own solitary musings about what worked and what didn't.
I should add, that this was not one of those eureka moments that made me want to become a photographic artist. I had so many other interests at the time: drawing, tinkering, building, inventing, games, sports, climbing trees. It took me through high school, and then college to settle on photography. But a half-century later, I'm still staging my shots.