The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 15, No. 1

Notes on Design

by Mark Romanek

My dad bought me my first camera when I was nine. A Kodak Instamatic. He taught me the rudiments of composition and set me loose with it on a family trip to Disneyland. It seemed like I had a knack for taking pictures. 
     When I was twelve, my dad played a trick on me: He said he wanted to buy himself a new camera and asked if I’d join him on a trip to the camera shop. I stood beside him, peering over the counter while he vacillated between the very costly F-1 (Canon’s top-of-the-line SLR) and the next model down—the FTb. Finally, sensing my restlessness, he announced to the salesman in a somewhat theatrical voice that he would take the F-1 for himself and “the FTb for the young man.” It was all an act. He had intended to buy a camera for each of us all along. I was flabbergasted. A Canon FTb was a proper, grown-up camera.
     At home we loaded both cameras with Ektachrome and went out together taking pictures around our suburban Chicago neighborhood. My dad is a good photographer, but when the photos came back from the lab, he said that my pictures were perhaps even better than his own.
     Dad had been a photography buff since he was a teenager. His uncle had given him his first camera, showed him how to use it, and built him a darkroom. So my dad decided to do the same for me. Consequently, I spent the better part of my teen years down in the basement, in a chemical-infused semidarkness, making prints and listening to the radio.
     Later, my dad lent me his old Ikoflex, a twin-lens reflex camera that he’d bought in Japan during his service in the Korean War. This inaugurated a fascination with different cameras, lenses, and formats and a sensitivity to the subtle and not-so-subtle variations in the images they generated.
     This is all a somewhat long-winded way of expressing my deep gratitude for my father’s generosity and his wonderful support of my nascent interest in photography—an interest that blossomed into a love affair with cameras, images, and image-making that continues to this day. 
     Thanks, Dad. I love you.
     Over the years I’ve owned lots of different cameras. For a while I carried a Contax T2 (loaded with Tri-X) everywhere I went. Recently I’ve fallen back in love with my cheap Pentax K1000, a fully manual 35 mm SLR that’s seemingly incapable of making a bad picture. (You can find them on eBay for under $200.)
     In the summer of 2007 I got an iPhone. I loved the lo-fi images it made. (Though I can appreciate the beauty of pictures created with the finest cameras—Leicas and Hassleblads—I’ve always had an affection for deliberately cruder kinds of photo-making.) To have this tiny yet pleasing camera in my pocket all the time was something of a revelation. Now it seemed that every moment, every encounter, every place was an opportunity to make a photo.
     More exciting still was the ease and immediacy with which these images could be transmitted to others. I could see something, make an image of it, and share it with my wife or a friend only seconds later. It was like sending a wordless letter that said, “Here’s how I saw the world today.”
     My friend Spike and I started an e-mail correspondence consisting solely of images. He would send me a picture of a pair of Arbus-esque twins he saw at a wedding. I would respond with an image of a stranger I snapped on the subway, etc. This went on for months—in a strange way it was a far more eloquent and intimate form of correspondence than either of us had ever experienced.
     I continue to take dozens of pictures every day with my iPhone. It’s become a kind of visual journal, a record of the more prosaic moments that make up my life.
     It is my pleasure to share some of these iPhone images with you in this edition of Zoetrope: All-Story. I hope you like them.

To view Mark Romanek’s design of the Spring 2011 issue, please purchase a copy from our online store.