The Camera

ShipOfFools_web_10042015Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.

(Prov. 3:5)

The Camera

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At age fourteen in the fall of 1967, I began carrying the Daily News to earn money to attend Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico [1] . Because the guys I knew with daily routes seemed older and tougher than me, I feared that I could not handle a daily route and continued to deliver the Prince George’s Post (a weekly paper) as a backupthe Daily News was a serious paper. Not knowing the cost of the camp and buying the required gear—a fancy backpack, a larger canteen, a compass, and a lot of little things—that I did not own, I also feared that I would not earn enough money. In the end, my fears were exaggerated—I earned more than enough to pay for the ticket and the equipment. In fact, I had enough money left over that I was able to buy a range-finder, 35 mm camera—just like my Dad’s.

This camera was neat, but it had smaller aperture and better winding mechanism than my Dad’s camera.  A smaller aperture—1.7 mm verses 2.2 mm—allowed taking sharper pictures. The lever-action, film winding mechanism was faster than the older method which relied on twisting a knob with your index finger and thumb—it was tedious to twist film.

Film—1968 was all about film.

Video clips of Vietnam entered our living room every evening at 6 p.m. On the news, we saw the bodies being displayed, villages being burned, GIs fighting gun battles, and Green Berets jumping out of helicopters in rice paddies. At the time, it all seemed as normal as Hamburger Helper and Jello pudding.

Normal was shattered when the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive [2] in January. By March President LBJ [3] was quoting William Tecumseh Sherman: “If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.” [4] His March 31 speech shocked everyone and transformed a sleepy presidential election into a horse race. It did not, however, end the war.

Tet exposed American military invincibility as a myth—right there on the evening news. The aura of victory in the Second World War finally faded flat—no one repeated the words, but the images were plain and clear and obvious. GIs died every night on television in a war that would not end and could not be won in the neat little box it had been made for it. No one in authority admitted the obvious truth so the fighting continued.

Television coverage of the war fascinated me: I watched every war movie available and aspired to becoming a fighter pilot.  During those days, I studied aviation, howto books on flying, and learned navigation—especially map reading. But I became increasingly conflicted between my ambitions to become a pilot and my religious beliefs—why did the United States care about Vietnam?  The futility of the war grew more obvious every day—if Vietnam was important why was the military restricted from pulling out all the stops?  If it was a just war, why were religious leaders protesting it?

I could not vote in 1968, but I handed out flyers at the county fair in Upper Marlboro for Richard Nixon—the peace candidate who had a secret plan to end the war. We were so excited, so proud that Nixon picked our Governor, Ted Agnew [5], as his running mate. It was thrilling to see Agnew with the President on the news.

With my new camera, in my own way I felt like a television journalist. My creative interest was people; I mostly took candid shots of friends and family, and mostly in black and white. I loved to develop my own film, cropping and enhancing my photographs in the darkroom.

One exception to my focus on photographing people was my fascination with open windows. Many of my photographs featured windows open to the sunlight and green oaks outside our church.  Open windows symbolized freedom and I felt closer to God in the great outdoors—hiking and camping, even in the dead of winter.

Sammi noticed my interest in photography.

Sammi invited me to photograph THE annual youth group retreat in June. It was after the church strawberry festival and after school let out at a camp with cabins and bunk beds on the Chesapeake bay. I had a job—I had to bring plenty of color film (black and white would not do) and I had to know what and who and when to photograph—because I was the official retreat photographer.

Against this backdrop, photographing Philmont became less important. I remember Philmont—not for the pictures, not for the bears, not for the sore feet, but for a radio broadcast from the moon on July 20th. We listened from the steps of a ranger station on top of a mountain in New Mexico. When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took small steps in a big way.[6]

That I remember.



[2] (January 30, 1968).

[3],_1968 (LBJ withdraws March 31, 1968).



[6] (July 20, 1968).

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