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How I Became a Calendar Girl!

On October 7, 1954, I received a ‘Brownie’ box camera for my 11th birthday. I became hooked on taking pictures right then and there, long before digital cameras, I-phones, and I-photos were even dreamed of. It has been an obsession ever since.

I eventually upgraded to a Kodak Instamatic, complete with flash CUBES, probably about the time I went off to college in the early 60s. Later, ‘disposable’ cameras by Fuji and Kodak were the thing. I shudder to think of the piles of plastic camera carcasses we must have added to landfills in those days!

All of the worthy pictures I took were organized into photo albums, held in place with little paper corner holders carefully pasted in, with my handwritten descriptions below them. Those were the days when we had to remove the roll of film from the camera and take it to a photo processing place, usually the local drug store, to be developed.

The current generation will never know the thrill of opening a new package of photos you just waited 10 days to have developed – or the agony of finding out A. they were all duds or B. there was no film in the camera!

After I married in 1970, my hubby gave me a very nice automatic camera with a strap to hang it around my neck! I found it bulky and uncomfortable, but it became my official camera. (I did hide disposables in my purse now and then for emergency purposes!)

I never got into the mechanics of cameras and have always been a ‘point and shoot’ person. My forte has been having an eye for an interesting composition or good photo op. I also know that if I take a bazillion pictures, one or two may turn out to be special! Besides all that, I have a compulsion to document events, sunsets, rainbows, family gatherings, and kids growing up. Just ask my offspring about that!

I bought my first digital camera in the early 2000s. I was widowed, empty nested, retired, and had just moved to my dream home, a condo in a charming village by the sea in N. Carolina. There was a wealth of wonderful subjects to photograph as I walked the beaches and rode my bike around town, always with my camera at the ready. Later, with easy editing features, I was able to crop out the bits I didn’t like and just have all kinds of fun experimenting with ways to improve a picture.

It was the beginning of the end of making albums, however, as one could view the photos right there on the digital screen, or send them to interested parties via the internet and never need to develop them.

When I was unable to find photo calendars of my new hometown as gifts for family, it dawned on me that now I had the ability to create my own. And, so I did. But it was expensive to make just a few copies. The more one ordered, the less each one cost. I decided to make 500 calendars and try to sell the bulk of them around town at cost after keeping the ones I wanted for myself.

And people wanted them! When I realized I couldn’t sell as many as I needed to break even, I took them to a local card and gift shop. The owner loved them but had to jack the price up considerably in order to make it worth her while. To my surprised delight, people bought them. Lots of people.

Thus, my small photographic calendar business was born and around town, I became known as ‘The Calendar Girl’. I created these calendars for seven years in all, stopping only when a new grandbaby enticed me to move to Oregon. With her and subsequent grandbabies came a zillion more Grandma-taken photos, all buried deep in the archives of my computer, external hard drive, photo sticks, phone, etc.

Like many my age, I worry that all the wonderful moments I’ve documented will be lost when I am gone. My contemporaries and I worry about what to do with our photos.

Most people don’t hang wall calendars anymore, what with digital calendars on our computers, phones, and wrist gadgets always a click away. These days I make certain photo collections into books as gifts. Among those are the very old photos I scanned that our ancestors took or had taken professionally as far back as the mid-1800s!

I’m now thinking of spending the winter loading groups of photos onto computer ‘sticks’ that I can give to the folks who might want them.
Recently I read about a nanny named Vivian Maier who took copious ‘street photos’ in Chicago and New York and many cities around the world starting in the 1940s. After she died in 2009, a storage unit was found filled with her rolls of undeveloped film, over 100,000 negatives. Today she is considered one of the best street photographers ever. The beauty of her situation is that she seemed to be happy doing her art just for the joy of doing it. The sad part is she never knew the value of her photography – and she was destitute when she died.

Currently, I have over 25,000 photos on my computer and probably as many or more on a hard drive I purchased many years ago. Add to that about 20,000 photos from my old camera days and I am still not as prolific as Vivian.

Like Vivian Maier, who also started out with a Kodak Brownie camera, I never made any money with my photography, but it has been and continues to be a wonderful pastime, whether anyone ever sees my photos – or not.

And besides, who else can say they became an actual calendar girl in their 60s?

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