My Third Camera

In 2013, I told Peg that I was going to buy a full-frame, professional-quality camera. Given the price, I knew she wouldn't be happy about it.

Ten years earlier I had gotten a scanner and digitized as many of my 1970s negatives and slides as time allowed (see My Second Camera). They comprised a show at the Ocean County Artists' Guild in 2005, which aroused a fresh interest in photography in this new, digital era. I bought a digital camera that year and began taking pictures again. Eight years and five cameras later, I was shooting the same kinds of derelict places as in the 1970s. They were mostly in Philadelphia, but also in Newark, Jersey City, Staten Island, and Poughkeepsie. The old mojo was coming back, and I was excited by the work. But I was frustrated with the small-frame, low pixel-count cameras I was using.

I wasn't certain what Peg thought of my work. She smiled and nodded on occasion, but she was hardly effusive. So I was surprised by her response when I mentioned I was going to buy a professional camera.

"It's about time," she said.

At 71 years old, I had never felt so affirmed. She believed in the work. I ordered a Sony A99, and it was a fine camera - when it worked. I had to send it out for repairs three times during the warranty period, so after the last repair, I sold it and bought a new, 36-megapixel, full-frame Sony A7r.

Sure, I had five cameras since 2005, all Sonys - an F828, an A350, an A550, an A580 and the A99 - but the A7r is the one I fell in love with and the one I still have. It's rugged and compact - light and tight - just like the Pentax was. For ten years, from 2009 to 2020, I visited fascinating abandoned places in the region. For the last five of those years, it was with my A7R. Technically it was my eighth camera, but in my heart it was the third.

During those years, the 2010s, Peg was a church organist and choir director. She wouldn't miss me on Sunday mornings. It was also a less risky time for an old white man with a camera to be in some poor urban neighborhoods where the derelict buildings usually were. I tried to arrive at a site around dawn to make the most of morning hours. That meant I had to get up between 3:00 and 5:00 am, depending on the time of year.

It became a sort of game. Could I get up and out the door without waking up Peg? On Saturday, I would bring my morning meds and clothes down to the kitchen so all I had to do was gently get out of the bed, tip-toe around the squeaky parts of the old bedroom floor and through the door - which I kept oiled. I never set an alarm. I never had to. I always woke up super early on Sundays.

I'd stop at the 24-hour Wawa for coffee and a roll to go. Then typically, I'd take NJ Rt.70 for a predawn ride from our home at the shore through the Jersey pinelands and across the state to Philadelphia on the Delaware. I looked forward to those two-hour, pre-dawn rides then and I miss them now.

I had been in my early thirties in the 1970s during my first adult adventures with a camera. For most of my much longer adventure in the 2010s, I was in my 70s. I climbed over fences, through windows, and up and down stairs in multistory buildings every week. I could swear it kept me agile and forward looking.

But much like my first engagement with photography ended when I landed a good, full-time job in 1975, this go-around ended when Peg died in 2019. We had been married for 51 years. Like that earlier time in the 1970s, the pursuit didn't have to end. But a personal era was over for me. The mojo had gone with Peg. I just couldn't do it anymore.

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