The Box

   In the living room of our  home at strategic places on the book shelf are a number of old cameras. The two oldest, Brownie Box cameras, once belonged to my grandfather. I’ve collected other cameras over the years, but the two old boxes are special and are the ones that I cherish the most. I remember my grandfather; we all called him “pop”, taking all of the family photos. I would watch him load the film, first by sliding the box open to reveal the simple inside box that held the film. Brownie cameras used 120 roll film that had to be manually wound onto the empty spool at one end of the box. That done, the box was closed, and the film wound to the first shot. Arrows in the small round, red window would point to the first frame. When the number “1” came into view, Pop would stop winding and was ready to snap a photo.  It was not a complicated process; they were simple mechanical devises with only one shutter speed and only one lens opening; truly the first point and shoot cameras. Pop took the standard posed photos; pictures of me standing tall with an American flag in hand on the Fourth of July, or on Flag Day, my birthday. He was a no-nonsense photographer; line up, get the framing right with the sun behind him (and in everyone’s face).When I was about eight or nine, Pop let me start taking pictures too.  It was with the Brownie Box camera that I took some of my first photos.
Those photos were mostly of trains, a subject that I still find fascinating. Trains have always been a part of my life. Pop was a machinist for the New York Central Railroad at the Harmon Shops, and would often take me there on Saturdays and show me the engines that he would be working on come Monday morning. It was there that I took my first photograph of an old electric engine sitting on a siding. I photographed with the box camera a lot.  Pop eventually turned it over to me, and it officially became my first camera. I took lots of photos, mostly around town. When a roll was finished, I would take it from the camera, lick the paper tape that was at the end of each roil and wrap it around the film securely. I’d hope on my bicycle and drop the film to be sent to Kodak for developing at Vogel’s Pharmacy or Van tines stationary store.
   When I was fifteen years old, Pop decided that I should graduate to a more professional camera. So, for my birthday he bought me a 35mm Mamiya. It had a built in light meter, a selection of shutter speeds and an aperture that could be changed to let in more or less light. Instead of the 12 exposures with the 120 roll film, I now had either 24 or 36 exposures. The old box camera got put on the shelf.
   As the years passed, I became more and more interested in photography and the photographic image. I bought my own cameras, new ones as well as a growing collection of classic cameras. My career had gravitated towards television and I became a successful TV cameraman winning a number of awards for my work. But it was to be still photography that remained my passion.
     For my still work, I used a number of cameras over the years. I bought a heavy clumsy Mamiya RB67, to heavy for field use, lugging it around all day produced a back ache more often that great photos. For a long time, I shot with a 35mm Minolta SRT 102. It was a simple camera and required that film speed settings and aperture settings be done manually. I now use a Nikon and a Russian Kiev, a rip off of the Haselblad but costing thousands of dollars less.
    As a TV cameraman, I “lost” numerous photographic images. I had a job to do, and that was to record the news. While working, I often saw photographs that I would have taken were it not for the cumbersome electronic camera on my shoulder. One image that was lost that I regret not having taken with a still camera was of a lone soldier standing on the tarmac of the military airfield in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. It was 1991; I was shooting a taxiing C5A transport as it slowly moved down the runway. As I panned my camera a lone soldier came into my view finder standing near the runway. As the giant transport passed us and turned away, the young soldier slowly raised his hand to a salute, his body stiff at attention. I could feel how much he wanted to be on that plane – they were going home, he, was not. In my electronic view finder, it was a fleeting image; as a still photograph, it would have been dramatic.
The photo that did not escape was of the twin towers in 1986. Taken from the foredeck of a CG Cutter, it shows the ships bridge taken from a low angle with the World Trade Center towers looming off to the left. This time, I had seen the photograph that was taking shape from a distance. Waiting for the decisive moment, I took the shot. The Raritan, the Coast Guard Cutter that I was on at the time, is now decommissioned and a reef at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off Miami. The towers are also gone.
   Presently, I no longer work in the television industry. Lately, I have been working more and more with still cameras. Not long ago I took the old Brownie Box camera off the shelf, dusted it off and loaded a roll of film. I wound the film into the camera, watching the arrows move forward as I turned the knob. When the number “1” showed up, I stopped. I thought of all the film that had been shot in this camera over the years. It was a simple box camera that held so many memories.

John Fasulo

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