My First Photograph, 48 Years Ago Today

I shot my first roll of film on January 29, 1965. How do I know this? Easy, I wrote the information in my innocent 9 year-old scratchy handwriting on the back of the photo. Has it really been that long ago? I still remember this so clearly, kind of like part of me will always be that little boy.

When I was nine, our grandmother Mary Brown Betts was raising some of my siblings and I, and one morning she handed me a little Brownie camera with a secret smile, and gently said, “Here, try this out.” After thanking her, I excitedly ran upstairs to try and figure out this mysterious little camera. This photo of our younger brother Brad is from my first roll of film.

I was playing the role of a little director and knew just how I wanted this photo to look, because I was going to send it to our little sister Lorraine in Sitka. She had been bravely fighting leukemia for a number of years and she took another turn for the worse. She'd been going through some pretty lowdown lows for a long time and had to be flown to Sitka, where the regional hospital was, far, far away from us. I thought it would cheer her up to see a photo of our younger brother wearing a silly expression. The photo was enclosed in the next letter along with a little story of how I made him laugh. Brad was a good sport and laughed at my dumb jokes. I fired the shutter just as he was in the middle of a giggle, and I had him standing in her favorite play area next to the house.

It was pure chance, but I really like how Brad kind of fades into a fog at the bottom of the photo. It's brought back to reality by the stark date mechanically printed into the bottom of the photo.

This photo was meant to be about hope, and I love this photo because it made her laugh when things seemed hopeless. Even as young boy, this photo made me realize that life is very frightening, but we can share our love and maybe make this journey a little easier, maybe ease the pain a little. Maybe. I hope, still hope, even after all this.

When they eventually sent her belongings back to us from the hospital, this snapshot was carefully placed amongst her special things, in a little box and it was all dog-eared, worn and battered by then. As if perhaps a little girl kept it in her pocket for a long time.

Story and Photos Copyright Larry McNeil, All Rights Reserved, 2013

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