Outdated Cameras Find a New Home

A piece of my valued lifestyle has wound up in the best of hands.

Remember my dilemma about what to do with my camera collection gathering dust in the basement? After months, really years, they’ve found a new home. I donated the whole lot to the photography classes at Haverhill High.

Old cameras get new life
Old cameras get new life

It was one of those spontaneous brainstorms I got one night during a restless moment in bed. I usually do my best thinking during periods of insomnia.

Why not call a few schools and see if students there can use the cameras? The idea came to me after an exercise in futility. After meandering through camera shops and seeing what I could sell, I came to the inevitable conclusion.

Dealers were looking to scrounge me out of a sale. One offered me $25 for a camera that once sold for $200 and was in perfectly workable condition. Another shelled out a package deal.

For the eight cameras I had at my disposal, let’s make a deal and I could walk away with $100.

Now, most of them were twin lens reflexes good enough to have carried me through a 40-year career in photojournalism. I was using 120-format film when others in my trade had switched over to 35 MMs and ultimately the digital mania.

I remember covering a football game with a Mamiya reflex. It was good enough for my wedding work and served my purposes for the paper as well. We were using our own equipment back then. Although there was a camera in the pool that was anybody’s privilege to borrow. Who wanted that?

Over the four decades, these cameras stood by me through good days and, let’s say, some dire moments. Like the time I ventured upon a ski slope and decided to foolishly obstruct the path of an oncoming skier.

I meant to grab a close-up and step out of the way in time but it was too late. He hit me like a rail car, sending me into a snow pile and turning my camera into a mangled mess. I felt worse for the camera than I did for my personal well-being and wound up replacing it with another.

And then there was that time when a bruising football player rammed into me while attempting a catch. I was too close for comfort and we met under very inauspicious circumstances—with me flat on my back and the camera up in the air. That one survived even though I paid the price.

And so it went, down through the years, a journalist and his camera. It did my job during police raids, accidents, sporting events, and check-passings. School and business calls were answered, not to mention house fires and other disasters, like the blizzard of 1978.

When I retired 11 years ago from the Haverhill Gazette, so did my cameras. I had eight of them collecting dust for sentimental reasons more than clutter. Once a year, I would dust them off for posterity and talk to them like I would my very own children. They were that personal and no camera shop hack was going to cheat me out of my treasure.

The day we moved into a condo development, I was forced to surrender my darkroom. It was here where my children learned their photography and the very place I would enlarge some 400 photos still in my collection.

If you’re ever by the mayor’s office in City Hall, drop by and you’ll see a different exhibit of mine each month. Most all are the black and whites I had published in the paper.

Along with my darkroom went the equipment. I recall donating my enlarger (a Bessler 23C) to this very same photography class at Haverhill High. There it was with other outdated enlargers, still serving a purpose.

I had called the school and was connected with a teacher named Ashley who rejoiced over the news. Eight students in Photography 1—a primer toward more advanced classes that use digital—did not have personal cameras and would welcome them.

I cannot tell you the look on their faces when I handed over my collection. I followed up my visit with two classes on how to take better pictures and everyone was happy. I was there again to view an exhibit by these same students and one had displayed a picture of herself holding the twin-lens cameras she received. There was an obvious look of pleasure on her face.

So, for those of you who are facing a similar predicament with your old cameras, why not pursue the same route and call your local high school?

Now, what to do with my remaining vinyl records? I’ll save that for another time.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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