Many years ago, back when my father spent most of his days working in the photography business he and my mother owned and operated (the kids still just call it “The Studio”), one of the package printers stopped working. For the uninitiated, a package printer was fed a negative and then reproduced on a long roll of photographic paper a series of prints in various sizes. At the time it was a marvel, and was so new and innovative that only professional and certified repairmen were allowed to work on them. Said repairmen were about 100 miles from my parents’ business, and these guys charged $75 an hour from the time they left their home–and this was back in the ’80′s.
My father, unwilling to spend that kind of money on something so simple as a repair, methodically pulled that baby apart and narrowed the problem down to one of the many circuit boards that made up the guts of the machine. That’s right–this thing was Computerized! That’s the way we referred to such things at the time, capital letters implied in the mere speaking of them. Undeterred by a complete lack of knowledge of integrated circuits, he proceeded to whip out an old volt meter and–one by one–tested the pins on each and every chip until he found one that showed a markedly different level of resistance. From this he deduced that he had found the bad circuit. Mind you, he relied entirely on his high school knowledge of electricity and basic science.
Producing a handy screwdriver from a back pocket, he popped out the offending little chip and drove over to the local electronics supply store. Some of you will remember the like–it was the one that carried tubes for your old television console. He had the man at the store order an identical chip from a huge catalog (Motorola, I think) and in a week the part was delivered. He pressed it in, returned the machine to its original reassembled state, and fired it up. The damn thing ran for another twenty years without a hitch.
My dad performed these little miracles on a near-daily basis. There was the time he taught Kodak representatives how to “push” color film during processing so that you could photograph in color at a night-time football game. Until that point, most believed it was impossible as the common stadium lights provided so little illumination. He was always ahead of the curve because he never saw the limitations of his knowledge, only that there was more to learn. I think he drove my mom crazy at times with his constant tinkering with the systems in their business. She was the real photographer in the family–the one with actual training in the art–but it was my father who kept the whole machine running. If it was new and unknown, he wanted to know it and use it.
This is what my father taught me. He showed me that anything is possible as long as you understand the basics, and that I should never be afraid to try something new. These days, every time someone asks me “how did you do that?” I always answer “my daddy taught me.”