Photography as Magic


We’ve all got one photo we’ve taken that resonates with us. It won’t win an award, which isn’t the point. The point is that It has a meaning for us, and we keep coming back to it when thinking of the photos we’ve taken we really like. Above is mine, taken in 1970 when I was 12 and just learning the fundamentals of film photography. It’s of two kids in my neighborhood. Nothing special, but it reminds me of my  childhood – my aspirations, the shape of my personality even at that early age, by extension people now old, people now dead. The kid down the street who died way too young; the dog next door I adopted as my own because I wasn’t allowed my own pet; friends I’ve lost touch with long ago; my father, long gone.

I thought it was cool simply as a good photo back then. I still think it’s cool, and I still think it’s a good photo. Not bad for a 12 y/o kid. But it’s become something more than that for me now. Each time I look at it a rush of involuntary memories come back to me, memories shaken loose by a simple decision, long ago, to point my camera at something and click. This is the enduring magic, for me, of photography. Photography can make you feel young again  – or yet. It can give you a visceral connection to the past, providing a clarity that memory, always reconstituting itself, cannot. In spite of its inherently abstract nature – the reality that stasis is a constructed illusion, as Roland Barthes spent a book arguing – it still can possess an authenticity that can’t be rationalized away. Those people there, in that picture, once stood in front of that camera, 50 years ago, just like that. That, to me, is magic.


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5 thoughts on “Photography as Magic


    Strange to read this today, about time and memories, I remember the first time I pointed my “instamatic” Kodak on the streets of the town where we stayed, Ajaccio on the island of Corsica (France).
    Snow had fallen for 2 days, really unusual on the mediterranean coast of Corsica….
    So I took some pictures, and of course, I didn’t keep any of them…I was 11 years old.
    Today, I’m older, 57, and I have 4 Leica cameras, and other stuff too…..
    Am I happy today? Just don’t know……

  2. Harry B Houchins

    I was stationed in Germany when I bought a Konica Auto S to document my stay in Europe. It was the beginning of a long career in Photography. Now, at the age of 72, I still look back at the old K64 slides and see again that life, that youth. The friends and lovers long gone. When I returned from Europe I continued photographing the people and places in my life in NYC & NJ. Later I found images of friends killed on 9/11. The images unlock the reserve and release feelings of sadness and regret and a poignant remembrance. For me photography is this magic mirror which reflects the truth that age and remembrance can cloud.

  3. Rob Campbell

    Yeah, Harry, memories…

    I still have two copies of a driving licence picture that I shot of my wife back in around ’81. She died eight years ago, and those two pictures, to me, are the most important things that I own. You’d think that as a working photographer I’d have lots of pictures of family; not so: I seldom shot anything aside from work.

    Kind of makes me wonder where future generations will be once the screen finally replaces the printed image, which I am certain will happen sooner rather than later.


  4. Finn Calander

    Well, I think that it’s a GREAT shot, an image that definitely resonates with me. And I really appreciate your writings in the Leicaphilia blog.

    / Best regards, FC

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