September 22, 2011

 

Faux toes

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My mother was a dedicated, if somewhat frugal, archivist. By this I mean she kept a diary that was almost strictly composed of short date/event postings (“Aug. 12 - Brookfield Zoo – lost Timmy during dolphin show”) as opposed to flowing, thoughtful prose about the meaning of it all. Indeed, the woman sprang off seven kids, so when the question of existence came up it was filtered through the experience of being pregnant for five-and-a-quarter years, and I can’t help but think that just keeping her eyes on the prize of eternal basking in glory was a suitable default. Photo-wise, she faithfully documented all manner of events from church picnics to her golf league’s crazy hat day, though her Depression-era raising usually precluded anything more than three or four snapshots per. She’d mail rolls of film off to a processor and it would take weeks to get them back. She was just going the usual ultra-cheap route and not considering the cool buildup of surprise unconsciously growing in us to the point of explosion when the mailman pulled out that yellow craft envelope with the green triangles around the border.

I was into photography big time in high school and college. I still regard it as one of the most perfect blends of art and science. I love to take them, I love to look at them, and through the years I've even taken a few stabs at organizing them. Of course there's a difference between artistic compositions and everyday snapshots, and for both I've applied my usual level of slackery to putting them in order. My collection is divided between a few somewhat chronological albums and framed (and hung) work along with several very disorganized shoeboxes full of photos still in the processing envelopes and a pile of to-be-hung frames (some waiting nine years now since we moved to our current residence). A few times I've had the bug for finding certain photos of a certain something and ended up browsing happily through the boxes for hours.

A friend recently mentioned their disenchantment with taking and archiving heaps of photos, and I can’t say I’m immune to the ennui and the conflict between being a packrat or a pragmatic “what are you going to do with all of these?” person. Since my son was born I’ve produced thousands of pictures and several hours of video. The latter is truly compounding my trepidation of what to do, as the task of rendering them into remotely watchable lengths and subjects stands at monumental, and the boy isn’t yet five. But there is a converse comfort to having them available – every time I’ve ever sifted through them I get blissfully stuck in front of the computer screen just as predictably as when I get out the shoeboxes. I’m an incurable shutterbug, for worse but mostly for better.

It’s interesting how the science of photography has changed the hobby, obviously since its inception but also in the 30 years since I had my first 35mm SLR – a Ricoh Singlex TLS. The camera was solid; I sometimes imagined myself as a crime-fighting news photographer, waylaying evildoers with a roundhouse swing of my 5-lb. TLS and then taking the photos for the article on their capture. I’ve long regretted having sold it some years after college for a relatively paltry sum. A couple of years ago I acquired a relatively modern 35mm SLR film camera of very good quality, but I rarely use it. I had meant to have it as a hobby camera for artsy B&W stuff, but over the years B&W film processing has become expensive and of questionable quality. Setting up a darkroom is but a dream at this point, what with most equipment either approaching antique status or, if new, sold at inflated niche market prices. So for now I’ve taken to the popular modern pastime of learning Photoshop fairly well and having fun with that, but I would like to get back to my old school ways someday, at which point I’ll need more shoeboxes.
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Comments:
I'm torn. I love the ability to shoot and shoot and shoot, but I do miss having that photo I hold in my hand and smudge with my fingers.
 
I do wonder what will happen to the hundreds, thousands of photos people keep on computers and smart phones--we have old albums to look through from pre-digital days, and for big events, take the disk to be made into photos to be put in albums so we can look at them.
 
Photos are the better way to capture the moment in time. Superior to video which is over-determined and dilutes the frames and says too much.
 
I think about this. What is the life of a CD or a DVD? When I throw computers away, I keep the hard drives, but . . . who besides CSI-Topeka will be able to read the data a hundred years from now?

And, most importantly, would it not be better to instill a little mystery into our lifetimes by NOT providing quite enough information? Would Lincoln be as famous or admired if we had his daily blog entries for 17 years, and 4,783 JPGs of him and his cats? Would we read Mark Twain at all if we new that actually for every pithy one-liner he had there were fourteen months worth of Usenet posts?
 
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