Sunday, August 15, 2010

20 million words

When I was about 10 years old, I got my first camera. It was a Kodak Brownie camera and came as an entire kit- the camera, a roll of black and white film, a neckstrap, batteries, and a set of three flashcubes. That was all it took to launch what has become a lifelong love affair with photography. I took a lot of pictures with that camera - pictures of my family, of our house, of the beach when we went to visit my aunt, and even of my toys. I took as many pictures as my parents would allow- remember film and processing were pretty expensive-- and I still have many of those images.

I have no idea how many photographs I have taken over the years. A conservative guess might be 20,000, a number that is increasing rapidly since I switched to digital about three years ago. If you had asked me ten years ago why I took so many photographs, I probably would not have been able to answer very cogently.  It was just something I did and enjoyed a great deal.

The real reason for my love of photography became clear when, ironically, I had no camera.

We were in England in the summer of 2003. We had spent a lovely week in London and were enjoying a week in the Lake District. We decided to go for a hike around Derwentwater, a small lake near our cottage. The day was sunny and warm; the trail was quite steep in spots and we got pretty sweaty. We were all pleased that a long stretch of the trail meandered around the perimeter of the lake sometimes allowing us access to the cool refreshing water. At one point, I stood on a flat rock at the water’s edge and leaned over to splash some water on my face when the rock tipped and I fell in. This was no big deal for me, but of course my trusty camera (by then I was using a Canon A1 SLR which I dearly loved) also went for a brief swim. The roll of film was almost used up anyway, so I removed it and looked to see if the interior had gotten wet. It looked ok and at first I thought everything would be fine. However, that was not to be. The camera did not work, would not work, and in fact never worked again.

I spent the remaining few days of our trip without a camera. Al had one, so we do have plenty of very nice photographs of those last few days. However, I felt oddly disconnected from the trip. It was as if part of me wasn’t there. I realized that without my camera, I didn’t know what to look at. There was too much to see all at once, and I had become dependent on using the camera lens to focus my attention within the scene.

I realized that photography affects not only how I see the world, but also how I interact with it. When I have my camera, I am always on the lookout for something interesting or beautiful and since I am actively looking for something interesting or beautiful, I am pretty likely to find something. It becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy and as a result, I have come to expect and believe that the world is an interesting and beautiful place. My photographic skills don’t always measure up and the image I record is not always the image I see in my mind, but that is almost secondary. It is the act of finding beauty and reacting to it that gives me joy and raises my spirits. Without photography, I would miss so much and my life would be diminished.

Something interesting is starting to happen because of this blog. Daily writing is beginning to have the same effect as photography. Since I have to write something every day, I find myself always on the lookout for something to write about, something that captures my imagination, something interesting. Like photography, daily writing is forcing me to pay attention. Hmmm…….

Today I am grateful to have our whole family back in the same state again!

PS  A couple people have questioned whether Brownie Cameras ever had flashcubes.  I did a little web research and found a picture of my camera-- the Kodak Brownie Fiesta Model R4 (manufactured from 1966-1970).  Here is a picture of one and you can see the flashcube socket in the upper left.

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