I read an ad on my computer the other night and it was hard for me to believe such a thing was possible. For $49.95 you can buy a ballpoint pen that will not only write in your checkbook (yes, I still use mine), but will also do the following things: record video, snap photos, use a built-in camera that can take as many as 4,000 still photos or 75 minutes of video with a microphone, and use a USB connector so that you can upload everything to your computer.
The pen ad triggered a lot of memories of getting on a chairlift with a rucksack full of camera gear over 60 years ago. I had a Bell and Howell 70da that held 100 feet of film capable of capturing two-and-half minutes of footage. It had three lenses: normal, wide angle and a two-power telephoto. I usually carried about 20 rolls of film to get me through the day. I also carried a heavy tripod with ski pole baskets on the legs to keep it from sinking too far in the snow.
The camera cost $256 and the film cost $10 a roll. The rucksack weighed in the 25-pound range, not counting a bag of trail mix I would pack for lunch.
In the mid 1970s, I finally got far enough ahead financially to buy a state of the art Arriflex with a 12 to 120 zoom lens. That camera also took 100-foot rolls of film, but it was driven by a heavy battery-powered belt. It could handle a 400-foot roll, but the magazines were too heavy and required a dark room to load the film in them. So again I packed around 20, 100-foot rolls of color film. That camera, film and battery belt moved my rucksack into about the 35-pound area.
The first 15 years I made my movies I did all of the photography for a couple of reasons: 1) I could not afford to hire someone else to do it; and 2) I really enjoyed seeing things for the first time and then sharing my discoveries with my audiences.
My camera and my skis were a magic carpet to the world for me. Once I was able to start hiring cameramen to cover places I didn’t have time to get to, I did enough research and had enough experience to direct them before they left my office in Hermosa Beach, Calif. We all had the same mission. We had to be the first person on the lift in the morning and the last person off the hill at night. All of us carried the same 30 or 40 pounds of camera equipment from sunup to sundown. The only difference in the weight during the day was the trail mix that was no longer in our rucksacks, but instead in our gradually increasing waistlines.
The first time I filmed any 16mm ski movies was at Squaw Valley on a two-foot powder day. It was the fall of 1949, and I naively put my Bell and Howell in the brown leather carrying case with the red velvet lining in which it came from the factory. After the third shot, I left the leather carrying case at the chairlift loading platform because I was wasting too much time getting ready to take pictures. Time was always of the essence when we were filming so we could get powder snow shots before anyone else would track up the hill.
We, particularly Don Brolin and I, led the charge for a lot of years. Then Brian Sisselman joined us and between the three of us we managed to film on every continent from Africa to Alaska, from Japan to Antarctica and from New Zealand to Zermatt.
There never was such a thing as a bad day, no matter where in the world we were trying to get pictures. Powder snow, rain, black ice, sub-zero temperatures in the Antarctic, behind the Iron Curtain in Russia or above 18,000 feet in three feet of powder snow in the Himalayas. Those 35-pound rucksacks we toted all over the world are now retired.
Fifty years or more was long enough lugging rucksacks, and I ended up an inch shorter than when I started lugging mine around. It sure was a lot heavier and almost certainly a lot more rewarding than lugging around a three-ounce, $49.95, combination ballpoint pen, video, still camera with a microphone. But it may be fun having one in my new era, as I try to catch up with this century.
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