Grandfather’s Camera | Joel Metlen

My grandfather collected a lot of odds and ends over his eighty-three years of life. When it came time after his death to clean out the cluttered barn and ranch house, I left the sorting and dividing to the parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Of the few items to trickle my way was one of my grandfather’s prized possessions, a 1957 Hasselblad 500c medium format camera given to him by his father, Fred Metlen, a man who abandoned his wife and three young kids in Montana to start a new life in Seattle working in photography at Boeing.

After fifty six years and countless journeys, the camera is still in perfect working condition. It came to me in a unique leather case my grandfather handcrafted to attach to the back of saddle, a horse being my grandfather’s preferred method of transport.

The photographs in this series, shot in the last few months since I received the camera, show some of the landscapes now inhabited by my grandfather’s descendants, who have dispersed far and wide from the rural Montana and Idaho where he grew up. Each new generation continues to add to our family journey, and maybe this camera will someday get passed down to another who will continue our story in pictures.

Photos in this series: Mt. Ranier, WA; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Washington, DC


Joel Metlen is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer who lives in Washington, D.C. His first feature film, Rain in the Mountains, was released in 2007, and his photographs have appeared in The New York Times, Frommer’s, and elsewhere.

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