I’ve been a photographer all my life. No kidding.
It all started when I was six at my aunt’s wedding. I don’t remember it perfectly, but pretend to remember it exactly how my dad tells it at every family event, be it Thanksgiving, Christmas, a birthday, or whatever.
I was sitting on the cold marble floor, squished between my father’s feet and the unpadded kneeler (we didn’t have it as nice as most churches do nowadays, the kneeler was little more than a piece of hardwood, a varnished board where we placed our knees whenever the priest told us to). From my vantage point I had a limited view of the church itself, but a cornucopia of shoes to look at. I could see my great grandmother’s old, wrinkly feet swelling out of a pair of old shoes. I could see my Uncle Walter’s notoriously smelly feet that he chased me around with at our yearly summer vacations at the Jersey Shore. I saw purses, umbrellas, tapping feet, bare feet taken out of painful shoes, and the general items you would see from down there.
“Pay attention!” my mom whispered every few minutes, as if I had any clue what was going on. For a moment or two, so my dad says, I would climb back up into the pew, and feign listening to the music and the hundreds of quiet conversations between adults as they awaited the big moment. And then I would be back down on the floor again, at this point trying to get out of the constrictive dress shirt I’d been forced into before we left.
And that was when I saw it. The bag, the big, black leather bag that dad took out for only special occasions. It had his camera in it, this I knew, and I’d always been in love with his camera. I was called a ham by my mother more than once, always smiling and changing my attitude as soon as it surfaced from it’s leather home. I loved being in front of it, but especially loved the quick lessons dad had given me, even back then. He loved talking about his electronics; he would have loved the digital age that he missed by a few decades.
So I wiggled over to it, through my father’s legs, and fought the button latch on the bag until it gave way. Then I carefully took out the camera (he’d trained me well, and to this day I work gingerly with my equipment) and started by taking it out of the soft cloth he wrapped it in. I saw the letters on it, spelling out B-R-O-W-N-I-E, and I ran my fingers over them, feeling the letters as I’d seen my dad do hundreds of times. I looked up at him, and he was facing the pew behind him, along with my mother, apparently talking about the weather with my great-grandmother. I unlocked the button I knew I had to push and started looking into the viewfinder at the world of people’s feet. I took a few shots of feet in different directions, unnoticed by my father.
If I hadn’t stopped for a moment, I probably would have missed the hushing of the whole church, and it was the silence that caught my ears first. Then the loud church music began, and everyone turned and looked towards the back of the church. I wanted to know what was going on, but wasn’t ready to give up playing with the camera, so instead I peered around the side of the pew from the floor where I was sitting.
I could see my aunt, dressed in all white, walking down the aisle with my Poppop. She had a see-through white cloth over her face, but I could tell it was her. I thought she looked really pretty, and thought I should take a photograph so she could see how pretty she looked. So I took a series of shots from where I was on the floor.
I realized as she passed that everyone was turning around, so I quickly put the camera back in its cloth and then returned it to its black leather home before my dad noticed.
Weeks later, my aunt visited. She told us all about her honeymoon, whatever that was (back then I assumed it had to do with bees and the night sky) and thanked my dad for sending the film, which she had developed and could not stop talking about a few of the photographs.
My father beamed with pride, happy to hear how much she appreciated his work. He was a bus driver by trade, but had always dreamed of being a professional photographer. My aunt kept talking about a few of the pictures specifically, how they were so different and creative, and how none of her friends ever had photos like his to remember their wedding by. Finally, she produced the album, and excitedly flipped to the photographs she had attributed to him, only to have him react with utter surprise.
“I didn’t take these.”
“But they came from your film!”
“I didn’t take them. I didn’t even use my camera during the ceremony, the whole time it was right on the floor by…”
And then they all looked at me. I smiled my biggest smile, as if they were taking my photograph.
Don’t forget to check back regularly as I continue the series of short fiction based on random old photos I find!