In the early 1980s, my dad kept an aluminum, hard-shell suitcase in the coat closet near the front door of our house. In it was a Nikon SLR, and three or four prime lenses. He'd take the camera out on birthdays and special occasions. It often traveled with us. I remember him teaching me how to understand the light meter when I was about ten, sitting on a couch at the Lake Tahoe cabin we stayed in each summer. I'd put different lenses on the camera body, point it at different subjects, and make note of the differences. I'd clean the lenses using the special tissue paper and plastic dust blower. But I don't remember actually loading that camera until we took a road trip from San Francisco to Vancouver - I was twelve or thirteen by then. Somehow I got it in my mind that I was going to take a few nice pictures when we finally made it to the Butchart Gardens in British Columbia. I was genuinely excited about it. I took one. A close-up of a blushing rose. I still have it in a box.
I don't remember picking up a camera again until my freshman year in college. I took a basic photography and darkroom class as an elective course. I enjoyed the assignments. I enjoyed sharing photos, and also seeing and talking about what the other students were shooting. I remember pasting this Martin Munkacsi photo into my journal.
I ended up majoring in Visual Arts, but photography was never my emphasis. It never occurred to me to try to be a working photographer. Quite frankly, at the time,I was more enamored with the things I was seeing in our computer lab - the first web browser, gif89a animations, learning how to ftp image files. I graduated from college (UCSD), went to work in publishing (print / on-line), and don't remember picking up a camera for years after that.
A lot of intense things happened in those years (both good and bad), and to make a long story less long, I'll just say that I knew I wanted to make the transition from working for others to working for myself. I love the creative side of projects, and at the time I found myself working less on that and more on the management and administrative side of things. I quit my job, started taking on freelance projects, and right around the same time, someone gave me a special camera.
Our friend Kurt was moving to Japan and before he left he gave me (well, me and Wayne) a Yashicamat TLR medium-format camera. I remember looking at Wayne as we were standing on a corner of Market Street, and saying to him - I'm going to take this as a sign.
So I started taking photographs again. First with the Yashicamat, and then with other cameras. I take photos of my day-to-day - places I visit, people I meet, little moments I want to remember. I've realized I like taking photos for myself - I don't really pursue professional projects. I mainly take photos because I enjoy it, or for my site, or for my books, or to work with someone I'm interested in. I've also found that photography is a good indicator for me - when my life is nicely in balance I shoot more photos. If I find my favorite cameras collecting dust, it's usually an sign that I'm over-extended in one way or another and I try to adjust. My hope is that photography continues to be something that inspires me throughout my life - not just the process of observing and taking pictures myself, but also appreciating the work of others.
I'm faithful to many things in my life, but apparently a camera isn't one of them. I've been most loyal to my Fuji645 over the years, its like an over-sized point-and-shoot that happens to use 120 medium-format film. I appreciate it's flat profile and in a pinch it can slide into a purse. It fits my hands perfectly, and slung across my body it stays close to my side. I don't mind carrying it around. It's one of the cameras I take with me on most trips. The downside: one lens, and a slow one at that - not interchangeable. The alternative is my Pentax 67 which we refer to as 'the beast'....not much fun to carry around (at all), or the Yashicamat. Wayne also has a Mamiya 645 which takes beautiful shots - but it is also a bit bulky. I have a major crush on the Plaubel Makina, but the one I bought had a light leak and I haven't replaced it.
Most of the shots on 101 Cookbooks come from my Canon DSLR. The Canon 20D and 50D and 5D are all great - depending on what you need. My sister has the XTi, which at the time she bought it was less expensive than some of the other DSLRs, with a few less features - but it still takes striking shots. I use fixed lenses - 50mm 1.4, 100mm 2.8 - if you can't afford the 50mm 1.4, the 50 mm 1.8 is a good alternative.
I have an entire collection of inspirational links and resources to share with you here, I just need a bit more time to organize them. If you check back in a week or two, I hope to post them. In the meantime, a few years back I posted some food photography tips & pointers that might be helpful.