Through The Looking Glass
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Before I ever had a camera, I had a lens. My grandmother Peg (we all called her Peg — including her own kids) gave it to me for my eighth or ninth birthday. It remains one of my most prized possessions. Made of metal and glass, it seemed like such a grownup, precision, scientific instrument. I loved the feel of the knurled metal handle. And it could do so many things — start fires; burn my initials into the heel of my baseball glove; project a perfect, upside-down miniature of the view of the world outside our living room picture window onto the opposite wall; and best of all, obviously, magnify. I used it constantly. It got dropped a lot, and while it sustained some scratches to the lens and dents to the frame, the glass never cracked. With it, I saw so much more of the world. Later, when I was in eighth or ninth grade, I decided I wanted to take pictures of what I’d been looking at, but all I had was a plastic Instamatic. I knew I needed a “nice” camera. My mom told me to “Talk to Glenn.” Glenn and Celie Smith were friends of my parents. Glenn worked for a sign company in my hometown of Billings. He is an artist — he can draw and carve and build just about anything he can visualize. He also knew about photography. He gave me lots of great advice, and told me I could get a used SLR camera for not much money, so I found a used Yashica TL-Super with a 50mm lens. But I wanted to take closeups, pictures of bugs and flowers, and couldn’t afford a closeup lens. He asked me, “Do you have a magnifying glass? Just tape it to the front of the lens you’ve already got.”
So I did. My magnifying glass was just a fraction smaller in diameter than the front of my camera lens, so I cut some thin strips of heavy paper and glued them around the outside of the magnifying glass’s circular frame, until it seated snugly inside the front of the camera lens. And then I started taking pictures. One you can barely see in the (poorly-scanned, sorry) slide from 1978. It actually won first place in the wildlife category of a photo contest when I was a college freshman. Of course, now I have a “real” closeup lens, one that is in fact a grownup, precision instrument and that helps me capture images with greater sharpness than a scratched-up magnifying glass can. It’s undeniable that I can see better with this chunk of Nikon glass… but I’m not sure I see more. So… thanks, Peg. And thanks, Glenn.