One Lens

In 1984, I was cutting classes to develop yearbook pictures. The red light was on, the door was closed, life was good. I was awkward in school. Photography gave me an early excuse to delve deeply into a complicated endeavor that held my interest and garnered positive attention.

In the 80s, glass was good. I was shooting Minolta gear, and it was gnarly man, totally tubular. My parachute pants were perfect for photography. Lots of pockets, lots of gadgets.

I didn’t belong to a photography group. The only real guidance I received was from Mr. B., the high-school photography guru. He was faculty, and an artist. When he spoke about his passion for photography, I remember how intense he was. It was infectious. Mr. B. signed a whole book of passes for me, and I would use them to get out of classes – sometimes to shoot an event, sometimes because I was just bored with school. Like I said, life was good.

Mr. B. felt that fisheye lenses, and zoom lenses for that matter, polluted in the pure waters of honest photography. He advocated for a single lens. For Mr. B., a photographer needed a lens that captured light like the human eye captures light. This means something in the 50mm range. A photographer with one lens has to work harder to get the shot. This means thinking more carefully about the end result before pressing the shutter. It also means missing out on many shots that are easy to capture with more versatile lenses.

That was over three decades ago. I have continued to enjoy the art of photography, both commercially and for pleasure. I recently returned to film for a brief affair, and the nostalgia was both bliss and inspiration. Shooting film forced me to change my routine. You only get one lens. Changing a lens in the middle of a roll will ruin the film. Not only that, but film costs money. When I’m shooting film, I choose my subject more carefully, compose my shot more thoughtfully. I want to make every shot count because I’m paying for it on both ends. I have to buy the film, and the chemicals to develop it. Most expensively, it takes a lot of time to do it well.

Returning to the constraints of a single prime lens (fixed focal point) felt great. I felt young, like I was working for it. With each satisfying crunch of the shutter, I was swept back in time, to those nostalgic days when photography was pure art for me. There was no thought about my Facebook page, or selling a print. I also felt like I was honoring Mr. B.

I don’t plan to stop shooting digital images. But beginning this fall, I do plan to return to my roots by using a single fixed lens through the end of the year, maybe longer. I’ve chosen 35mm as my prime focal point. When I venture out my door, I’ll be leaving home with one camera and one lens. Yes, I’ll be missing out on a lot of shots I would have captured, but those moments will be part of the experience. I expect that coming to peace with the fact that I can’t photograph everything I see will allow me to appreciate the beauty of those moments without the mediation of a camera. I appreciate setting down my cell-phone when I go to dinner with my wife. I do it to be present with her. It’s worth it.

I expect that with the right attitude, when I’m trudging around Pennsylvania this fall, many more moments will feel like that. The images I do capture and decide to share will be posted here: