Earlier this week a photographer came to take pictures of me for a story in Yankee Magazine and I was wary. For most of my life I haven’t liked to have pictures taken of me. In fact, I’ve been so image-averse that when I’d walk past a store window I’d take care not to see my reflection.
This struck me as strange, because for quite a long time I wanted to be a photographer. I had a very good camera, the kind rarely seen now where the front folds down and you pull the lens and bellows out along a track and take great care with framing and focusing and use an exposure meter to set the lens opening and shutter speed of the Zeiss lens to take best advantage of the 3x4 inch film.
All this was due to the time my mother was on a hike and she sat down on a log to rest for a few minutes and when she leaned over backward she put her hand on something she didn’t expect, and it was a cameras, that camera.
My brother John had taken superb pictures with it during a drive across the country and I made my own darkroom in the attic of our house in Deerfield and I did my developing and printing there and one of my pictures appeared on the cover of the Deerfield Academy alumni journal. The big time at last.
Not only that, but Life Magazine came to do a feature on the school and I was prominently displayed in the leading picture. Not everyone would know it’s me, though, because I’m wearing an 18th-century ball gown of magenta satin with black piping. I was never lovelier. Later on, Life Magazine ran a picture of me during a dance in the original grand and glorious Tuckerman Ravine Shelter and, still stylish, I’m wearing Levis and mukluks.
Another chapter of my life in skiing found me in the living room of a very stylish hotel in the Swiss Alps. One evening a family was playing cards with their children, a boy and a girl, and two members of the American women’s ski team were kibitzing. It was a nice moment and I took a picture of it and the little boy began crying. It was serious crying, and his mother said, “When someone takes a picture of him, he thinks they’ve stolen part of him.”
That goes deep, but for the first and only time in my life I had a Polaroid instant camera with me. It was in my room upstairs, so I brought it down and the little boy was still crying. I took a picture of him and a minute later I gave him the picture and he stopped crying. Now he was whole again.
Along the way I became an enthusiastic victim of the theory that more equipment would make me a better photographer so I got two Nikon bodies with seven lenses and a motor drive. And then, inevitably, I got a Leica.
By that time I’d gotten to know a Japanese photographer named Hiro. I never learned whether that was his first or last name, but it didn’t matter, because everyone knew him and he was, by reputation, the best photographer in the world. For sports, fashion, or architecture, Hiro was the man to get.
Not only that, but he used a Hasselblad camera and no other photographer I ever saw on the racing circuit used one because it was much larger, much heavier, much more expensive, much more intrusive, and much more complicated to use than anything else in the market.
There was the day, for instance, when he took a position below a large roll in a women’s World Cup downhill course. A racer would be going at top speed here, but she’d only be visible for a moment, such a daunting prospect that out of fifty or more photographers on duty only Hiro was at that place. Later that day I saw one of his pictures in the photo lab, I think it was Toril Fjelstadt of the Norwegian team, and I could see her eye lashes through her goggles.
A few days later Hiro had a Ricoh point-and-shoot camera hanging around his neck. I reached over and picked it up and said, “Hiro – aren’t you embarrassed!”
He understood my tone and he giggled the way Japanese men do and said, “I never leave my room without it. There will always a time when you see a picture that’s about to happen just a few feet away, maybe two friends are seeing each other for the first time since last year and there’s no time for a Hasselblad and everything that goes with it, so I just lift up my Ricoh and I’ve got the picture. If it’s going to a newspaper or magazine there isn’t a reader in the world who can tell the difference between a Hasselblad and a Ricoh because the paper isn’t good enough.”
By that time I had two Nikon bodies, a motor drive, a 50mm normal lens, a 3.5mm wide angle, a 3.5x32mm zoom, a 4.5x22mm zoom, a 70x210mm zoom, and finally, inevitably, I got a Leica. When I got home after that season, the first thing I did was buy a Ricoh point-and-shoot.