(Originally published in Ruralite Magazine, April 2014)
By David LaBelle
I have known photography longer than I’ve known my wife, my children, and most of my relatives. For a half century, this magical medium has been both a vocation and an avocation.
Like many of my generation, my first camera was a Brownie Hawkeye. Actually it was my mother’s camera, but she let me use it. I must have been 11 or 12 when I began trying to get close enough to animals like opossums, skunks, raccoons and bobcats to shoot good pictures. I risked my life climbing out on tree limbs, high above cliffs and creek beds, to photograph crow and hawk nests.
A few years later, I began photographing human animals.
Then the camera became a therapeutic tool, a way to frame, analyze, and make sense of the world. It was my filter, my screen to sort through many confusing emotions and separate the small stuff, the gravel of life, from the gold nuggets. It helped me organize what I saw and felt and taught me lessons I could never have learned in a classroom. My subjects have always been my greatest teachers.
Photography, photojournalism in particular, built my self-esteem. A camera around my neck was my Superman’s cape. I felt important. I had purpose. It gave me the courage to enter any environment, even dangerous and intimidating situations I would never have had the courage to go into without a camera.
The “magic box,” as some have called it, continues to lead me to people and lands I have only dreamed about. It is a passport that opens doors and carries me on adventures across the globe; places I would never explore without a camera.
Photography helps me slow down, pay attention and observe life more closely, to see the beauty and story in simple things others pass by or take for granted. A bird’s feather caught in a bush, a discarded toy on a roadside or two fallen leaves gliding to earth and arriving in the same spot on a wet sidewalk – each tells a story.
The camera also challenges me to question and see my own reflection play out in the faces and actions of others, for better or worse.
But above all, the camera is a loyal companion and a trusted friend that has made this experience we call life much more profound.
I never feel bored or alone when I have a camera. Unlike a dog or other pet, it does not need to be fed, brushed or let out for a bathroom break. Nor does it get jealous when I leave it alone and chew the dash of my car, steering wheel or an innocent sock.
And the camera tells me the truth when I need to hear it…or see it.
Looking back, I realize what an incredible gift photography was to an insecure kid from Creek Road. I thank God for the camera’s healing power and cannot imagine what my life would have been without it.
All photos © David LaBelle