Hi, My Name is Deborah, and I'm a Recovering Photographer…

pentax-iqc2a0zoom-140c2a0date-35mm-point-shoot-filmIn 1991, my fiance got a Pentax IQZoom 140 from Fingerhut, and I was in love.  He was on the road a lot, so I had primary custody of the camera.  I never left home without it, and since a significant part of my job was training photo processing, I always had a few rolls ready for anything.  Then 3 very important things happened at the same time.  First, the one time I left the camera at home, our house was robbed, second…I got tapped to be a permanent photo processing instructor, and third…summer arrived.
We didn’t lose much in the robberies.  As a matter of fact, the only thing we had of any “value” was that camera.  All of the rest of our vast wealth was invested in rare comic books and antiques which ghetto thieves would never recognize as valuable.  We were actually quite lucky in that regard, but my heart ached for the lost camera.  Immediately after finding a new place to live, I set my sights on getting a new one.
35mm-film-processing-virginia-maryland-washington-dcPart of my job as a retail district supervisor for the largest drugstore chain in Southeast Michigan was to monitor policy and procedure compliance in the photo departments of 15, and eventually 35 stores.  On my visits to stores, I would check film stocks, and invariably find old and expired film.  Here’s the good part.  Film took 2 markdowns.  1 month before expiration, it was 50% off.  4 months after it expired, the price was $1.00.  I would go into a store for a routine visit and, in some cases, I’d find hundreds of rolls of expired film.  The store managers would angrily call corporate demanding to know why I was marking down 5 thousand dollars worth of perfectly good film.  They’d be directed to the appropriate documentation.  There’d be write-ups for not properly rotating stock…and then I’d buy all of it, and store it in my freezer.  Once, Mommi threatened to call child welfare on me cuz the only thing in my freezer was film.  I think the employee price for photo processing was 50%, so at most I paid $3 per roll for developing.
1-hour-photo-appBack in those days, some stores took in 50+ rolls of film every day.  The processing company would pick up the rolls and usually returned the photos the next day.  We made 30% profit or something like that.  Then FUJI came out with the cool little machines the size of 2 file cabinets, and we put them in a few stores.  Our profit was now 85%.  The great stores did so well, that it was decided to place them in all 200+ stores.  Not only did we hafta train and support these stores for the rollout, but there needed to be permanent training facilities with full-time trainers.  Of course, students were told to bring 2 rolls of film to class, and many did…but some didn’t.  Then I did my duty.  I had to make sure they learned, right?  What if the class was small or nobody brought 35mm film.  My job was to train them.  I did what I had to do.  IT WAS MY JOB!
62553_1397758625336_6450118_nMemorial day weekend came.  That Friday morning, I packed the car with clothing for a long weekend, a huge wad of cash…and a cooler full of film.  My first stop was at Ritz camera in Oakland Mall.  I’d grab a new camera before heading to Chicago.  I remember walking into the store and holding a brand new Pentax IQZoom140.  Then I saw the 160.  The rest is a blur.  My next camera memory is of sitting at my parent’s kitchen table trying to remember how to take the lens off of my new Minolta Maxxum 330si.  I named her April.  That’s us in the red photo.  I shot sparingly at first, then on the day of the picnic…I shot 17 rolls.
It started off slowly, like all habits.
I’d do a couple of rolls on weekends, you know…just socially.
Then work picked up, so I’d sometimes do a roll after work…just to relax.
Then I started doing a bit on my lunch breaks…and on the road between stores…then at gas stops.  Sometimes a sunset, or an accident, or a duck crossing the road would catch my attention…and next thing I knew, another roll.
But I had it under control…really I did.  Sometimes, I’d go days without shooting…ok…hours.  But it was still ok.
Hell!  What did you expect?  The film was cheap and the processing was free.
That’s how they suck you in, you know.  I hear that’s how they got Maplethorpe.
Yeah.  I started using at work too.  But it was for training purposes.  You understand.  I had to make sure there was enough film for everybody to practice processing.
Then this one girl brought in some Ilford 400.  Yeah…now that was some good shit.  C41 black and white film.  It was new.  I couldn’t get it for a dollar a roll, so I had to pay for it—for real.  And you couldn’t get it just anywhere either.  You had to go to camera shops.
z354090-mediumThese places were nothing like Ritz or Wolf Camera.  No way.  They were outta the way joints with small signs and no photo processing.  The guys behind the counters weren’t salesmen, they were believers.  They were artists.  They were gurus.  They quickly pointed me to the good stuff.  I became a regular.  They knew me by name, and always had what I needed.  Sometimes, if I called, they’d stay open late cuz I just needed to breathe the air.  They had new and used equipment.  There was this one little piece that made me hot.  It was a 110 SLR kit with a steel body and 5 lenses.  A $300 110 camera.  It was sooo hot!   I only touched it one time.  God, I wanted it so bad.mwclassiccameras-20180323-190
Shutterbug magazine was camera porn.  I’d go to sleep dreaming of the hotties in those pages.  I’d’ve put out for a Hasselblad, I swear I would’ve.  In those pages, I learned the secrets of film magic.  I learned about filters and lights, and how to do it in the dark with infrared.  Yeah.  Those were wild times.  My BW habit got so bad, I had to buy in bulk.  I got a black bag and lead puller from work, and I’d raid the trash for empty film canisters.  Then in the dark of my bathroom, I’d…I’d…roll my own.  But hey…processing was still free!
512y52diq5l-_sx425_120filmOk.  I finally figured I might have a problem when I saw a Russian TLR for real cheap.  It happened so fast.  I saw it in the magazine…and then I had one.  That simple.  Now I was on real heavy stuff.  Medium format.  Bigger, harder, uncut.  It had a fixed lens, with a waist level viewfinder, and remote shutter release.  I named her Gladys.  Yeah…she was ugly, but she did it like no camera I’d ever held.  She was real…and natural…and totally manual.  And the film was even more expensive.  I learned to be very careful.  Plan every shot.  Don’t blow my good stuff.  It was C41, but prints cost a whole lot.  But, I was makin’ good money.  I could handle it.
I got Bertha for Christmas.  She was another Russian.  An SLR medium format, pro-knock-off.  She was big and bulky and overweight.  With her, I had my first photogasm.  She had TTL metering and was manual too, but she was good.  I’d strut her out for the photo classes.  I used her to explain how the shutter worked.  She was big and loud, and I’d lay her open so the class could watch that jet black shutter in bulb mode.  Yeah.  What a camera.
minolta_maxxum_700si.jpgI thought I’d reached my limit.  I had 3 hot cameras, and all the cheap film and free processing I could ever need.  Then I wandered into one of my regular haunts and there she was.  I know she was waiting for me.  I swear she winked at me and flashed her knobs.  Sidney was a Minolta Maxxum 700si.  I didn’t even ask the price.  I just took her home.
A body like Sidney needed a lot of accessories.  I got filters.  I made filters.  I got flashes and wires and tripods and monopods.  But I was good.  I treated all my ladies equally.  Whatever Sidney got, April got.  I bought 2 28-300 lenses.  2 2x converters, and 2 Quantray SLR bags.  Bertha and Gladys always got equal play.  I always took all my girls wherever I went.
Then came Polly.  She was a hot little Polaroid Spectra instant camera.  She had her own set of filters. They’re pretty rare.
Now that little thing surprised me.  She could do what the big girls could, but she did it instantly…any time…anywhere…right where I could see it.  No waiting for anything.  And I could get her film at expired price cuts too.
Yeah…I was outta control.
My “free” job perks were costing me about a grand a month.

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