My most precious gift
By Lew Harford
10 Jul 2009
My most precious equipment is my old Nikon- F fitted with a Nikkor 24mm f2.8 prime lens. A gift from my father, it is the first SLR I ever owned and has exposed thousands of rolls of film. It is the tool with which I learned how to see and has been my constant companion for over 30 years.
It was with me, a fledgling yearbook photographer, on the sidelines in Huntington, West Virginia when Marshall University's Young Thundering Herd beat Xavier in the final seconds of their first home game of the 1971 season. The victory came less than a year after the tragic plane crash that took the lives of seventy-five team members, townspeople and airline crew.
It was with me on a foggy morning on the Ohio River aboard a towboat named the Jill-B where the crew showed me how hard river work can be. The images from that day remind me how dangerous it felt out in the water when the fog was so thick you couldn't see the shoreline. The towboat crew switching massive empty barges for ones filled with tons of scrap iron using eyes of radar for guidance. To this day I remember it as my best single day shoot.
It has taken thousands of portraits of people whose names I can't remember, but whose faces I will never forget. A little girl with her prized pet turkey. A workman taking a break on the Staten Island ferry. An old woman posing with pride on her newly swept wooden sidewalk.
The images of my sons and daughter, family reunions, graduations, wedding anniversaries and family trips were trusted to it.
Kodak no longer makes the 35mm aluminum cans which were taped to the strap long ago to hold extra film. The paint on the 24mm's focus ring has worn down to the brass from the times I've touched it. I know the sound of the mirror flop as well as I know the beat of my own heart. I know the action of its controls more in my hands than I do in my head. I have held it so many times it has become an extension of me. It has never failed me.
The true reason I hold this camera in such high regard is that it was my father's investment in something in me that no one else saw. A gift allowing me to explore and develop my creativity through a glass lens. A gift that has been and will continue to be a passion for the rest of my life. A gift that has provided a lifetime of wonder and inexhaustible pleasure. But, most of all, it showed my father's love and trust. I will always keep it. It is beyond precious to me.