The body of my first real camera, the Konica Autoreflex T, is all that remains of my once robust stable of Konica 35mm cameras and lenses. But that is enough. This carcass of polished metal embodies a decade of life changes, worldly explorations and career accomplishments.
It was 1970 and this was the first camera I bought for myself. Many memories surround that purchase. I remember the camera store, a small storefront in the old market building in London, Ontario. I remember the sudden death of my father just weeks earlier. I remember, weeks later, my brave, young mum, picking up the pieces of a family set adrift and moving us to Winnipeg.
The story starts earlier, sometime in the late 1960s. My dad, who had become general manager for a chemical factory in London, Ontario, bought a Pentax SV 35mm camera for his company. It was an odd-looking device when paired with the bulky clip-on meter that perched on top of the camera. The meter mechanically engaged with the camera’s shutter dial to provide some semblance of exposure automation.
The camera was purchased for work use, of course, but somehow it always managed to find its way back home. This was the first camera that I really looked through and, through it, I began my exploration of the world it framed.
Concurrently with that camera, my interest in photographic printing took hold. My new Durst M300 enlarger was well-suited to temporary take-overs of the family bathroom. Soon I was relegated to the basement fruit cellar and, by 1969, I had framed a new darkroom space in the basement.
Then came June 23, 1970. I was out for a long bike ride on a fine summer day. All was well when I left my mum, dad, sister and brother at home. Sometime, while I cycled around town, lost in the warmth of the day, a sea change occurred in our family. I returned home, exhausted but content with my two-wheeled adventure.
The home I returned to was unusually quiet. My brother and a friend were in the driveway and could only hint that something was amiss. My mother and sister soon arrived, driven home by a neighbour. A sullen-faced mum led us into the house and sat us down at the kitchen table. That afternoon, our father had succumbed to a heart attack while sleeping in the family room. He was 43 years old.
My mum, Anna, now a 44 year old widow with three children, made the brave, definitive decision to move us all to Winnipeg. The place where she and Stan were wed. The place where she could find support from family and friends. And it all happened in a matter of weeks. By the start of the school year, we were completely re-established in Winnipeg.
That I can remember anything of the summer of 1970 seems remarkable. It was such an abrupt right turn to our lives. It all happened so swiftly. Yet I do remember the company men dropping by our house to sheepishly recover their Pentax SV. Yes, it was the company’s equipment. But, in spirit, it was mine.
I could not fill the gaping hole of a missing father. Cameras were another story. I could patch that hole with a Konica Autoreflex T. It would help me through that period.
That I still own the camera body is more accident than plan. Beyond its decade as a useful tool, I never attributed much significance to its presence in my life. It is only now, reconstructing my biography in cameras, that I can see why it still sits on my shelf. Without film, without lens, I can still click that shutter release and, in a 1/125th of a second click, capture that momentous year: 1970.