One really cold Saturday in 1959, my uncle Arnie, who smoked pipes, wore a houndstooth overcoat and was a fantastic photographer in his own right, took me to the Central Camera Co. underneath the elevated tracks in downtown Chicago. A salesman named Gene showed us some possibilities for my first used camera. Arnie and I chose a somewhat seasoned Argus C-3. http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Argus_C3. For good health and luck, he cajoled Gene into giving me my first roll of film, Plus-X. Gene showed me how to load it and unload it while Arnie explained what would happen if I didn't rewind the film before opening the camera door.
They showed me how to understand the exposure info printed on the paper film insert sheet. The camera body was built like a tank, even with it's bakelite components. It was black and chrome or maybe aluminium with a leatherette covering and I remember the scent when I first held it up to my eye while turning the seemingly complex geared rangefinder focusing mechanism. As I recall, in 1959 the camera cost about $10 but the remainder of the day was remarkable and priceless for a 9 year-old.
After Central Camera, we walked a few blocks over to the Art Institute where I incorrectly exposed and photographed the lions on the front of the building and galleries inside one excruciating frame at a time so as not exhaust my precious first 36 exposures of good luck film. Uncle Arnie stood by me patiently showing me how to hold the camera in my hands that were much smaller than his, how or where I might stand or sit to get different perspectives and how to release the shutter and advance the film after relearning how much light I should give the film.
Arnie honed his photographic skills in WWII as an air combat cameraman in B-24s and after the War, he apprenticed at Vogue studios also in Chicago. While my initial photographic works weren't nearly quite as remarkable as his, the experience of learning how to process it in Arnie's darkroom truly was. In retrospect, all these years later, it seems like thousands of rolls of Plus-X, Tri-X, Kodachrome and yep, even Verichrome Pan 120 have passed through my now much larger hands.
And even now, every time I load a roll of film or put sheets into a holder, somewhere in the back of my mind, whether it's conscious or not, I think of that amazing Argus C-3 and that day with uncle Arnie; how he patiently and gently revealed and shared a lifetime of pathways that allowed me to learn processes and explore, visualize, create and capture the world on film; to connect with people from all endeavors and all walks of life.
Central Camera by-the-way is still there on South Wabash Ave. Since 1899 it seems to have lived in a time warp and looks the same now as it did when I was first there. It has the same musty scent from pipe and cigarette smoke circulated by overhead ceiling fans; the same wooden floors and the counter-top departmental divisions. It's still owned by the same family. You can see some indoor and outdoor photos of the place over here:
Thanks for giving me this opportunity to remember Arnie as the best friend and mentor I could ever have and for the loving ways he educated and shared and taught me his boundless love, his lust for life that for me, all started with that Argus C-3.