Seeing stars and winning contests

It was 1975, I was 13 and on my way to my very first photo assignment for the local newspaper. Obviously I didn’t drive at that age, so to get to the assignment from my house (it was a blood drive at the high school cafeteria) I had to walk across town with my 35mm Argus/Cosina SLR (see camera info here), uphill both ways (really!).

Before we proceed, a little back-story on that camera (here I am with it at the time).

I purchased the Argus from a local department store with money I had saved up. Since I had not saved a huge amount, I ended up getting a display model which was fully functional, except that it was missing the shutter speed/ASA film speed dial plates with the numbers printed on them. As a result, I could not use the built-in light meter (which depends on a film speed being set) until I replaced the plates, and I also had to memorize the shutter speeds in order to choose one (working from the top end of the dial, 1000, 500, 250, 125, 60, 30, etc.). Using the little sheet that came with each roll of Kodak Tri-X, I learned the shutter speed/F-stop combinations for various lighting conditions. (This necessity, forced upon me by the missing dials, turned out to be great photography training and I remember these settings to this day.)

This “sunny f-16” rule – setting the shutter closest to the film’s ASA rating and using f/16 in full sunlight, f/11 for cloudy bright, etc. – resulted in this photo of some kid scooping up fish in a river. I crossed over the river on a bridge, looked down and saw the kid (turns out he was named Travis and I am in touch with him on Facebook now, over 40 years later!), set the camera to 250/16 (because it was sunny…), and took exactly one frame. Here is that photo scanned from an original darkroom print:

There is a lot of luck going on here! Travis is standing just so, the bucket held just right, and the sun-! Combined with the small f/16 aperture, the sunlight on the water turned into dancing stars, flowing around the scene and even into the bucket. I should say I planned all this but I didn’t, and had no idea of what I got until I developed the film and made the print.

The photo even ended up in the same paper I was shooting the unrelated assignment for. Here is a poor photocopy of the clipping:

The cutline mentions I won a bike in a photo contest; that was great for a young teen! Here I am in a camera store (remember those?), taking delivery of my prize:

And my proud mother gave a copy of the photo to her boss as I recall, who contacted a friend or colleague at Penn State. The boss got a letter in return; here is professor Edward Leos‘ comment about my photo:

Decades later, I revisited the image (scanned from the original negative), post-processing it in Photoshop:

Oh yeah, the original photo assignment! Here is that image, taken a few frames after the “Stars” photo. Nobody remembers it now…

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