Learning To See Differently

Before starting my trip, I came to a moment in packing where I had to decide whether or not to bring my Canon Rebel SLR camera on the road with me. On the one hand, I thought about all the amazing (alright, maybe just o.k.) pictures I might be able to take. On the other hand, I thought about my luggage. It’s been difficult enough to lug all of my things in my shitty Adidas backpack (the $70 piece of crap that’s already tearing at the seams) and my old, trusty (but definitely not waterproof) canvas messenger bag, so I thought the added weight of a camera and film might not be the best idea. However, being on my 4th stop (and preparing for my next), I’m beginning to realize all the missed photography opportunities that have passed me by and am beginning to feel a tinge of frustration and regret.

I was reading travel buddy Phillip Johnson’s blog tonight, catching up with his recent excursion in Cuba, and got inspired as I read his most recent post, How Trinidad Thwarted my Every Attempt to Take (Good) Photos of its People. He got this wonderful photograph of a little girl with a mouthful of sandwich, stealing the spotlight from her grandmother, that he wasn’t particularly fond of but still captured a moment. And then it made me think of all the moments that I haven’t yet captured.

Sure, I’ve got my small digital point-and-shoot that I occasionally remember to bring out of my bag, and I’ve got my even shittier cellphone camera, but I feel like these will never replace the feel of a good old fashioned film-based SLR camera. Because my current digital Canon and my cellphone camera are digital, because there’s no need for me to really focus in on what I’m taking a picture of, they are never very personal pictures. I don’t take portraits or close ups with these pieces of equipment. They are good for quick snapshots of the street or of my current meal or to update you on which bar I decided on for the night, but they don’t tell stories or relay sentiments the way I (naively) hope that my writing does. They are distant, cold, unaffected, and I am in severe need for a bit of warmth.

I bought my first (and only) SLR camera back in high school when I took y first black & white photo course. I fell in love with the science of mixing chemicals and timing everything and being so goddamn precise until you realize you don’t really need to be. My free time was constantly spent chasing images in the dark room, perfecting the crop and saturation of every image. And when I wasn’t acting the part of mad photographer in the lab, I was out pointing my camera at anything that moved, plus some stable things as well. My camera served as the mediator between myself and the rest of the world. And more than anything else, it helped me to see things differently.

It’s easy to forget to appreciate details when you’re not focusing: a specific freckle pattern on someone’s bare shoulder; a half-decomposed, barely recognizable dead bird on the sidewalk; the steam rising slowly out of a hot cup of tea held between two hands; the wrinkles left on a bed spread after sex. But the camera makes you focus, literally and figuratively. You learn to cut out the shit that isn’t necessary, that you don’t like, that doesn’t work, and then you crop and hone in on the real story. A photograph of a lake: still waters, a reflection of a boy on standing on the edge of a pier, a log floating past, some fallen leaves, some bits of trash, a boat on the horizon, a bird sticking its head underneath the surface in search of a meal. But you see the expression on the boy’s face, and suddenly there’s no need for the rest. You zoom, you get closer, you look, really look, and there it is. Something more than what you first expected, something deeper than the whole picture, a fraction but it’s so much more. This is what I’m talking about and this is what I miss.

I took two more photography courses in college, but I never wound up sticking to them long enough. As usual, my photographic pursuits have waxed and waned to the point that I’ve spun too far away from inspiration. However, perhaps with a new tool at my disposal, I’ll find some inspiration again. At the very least, I will try to spend the rest of this week being a little craftier and bolder with my current camera. And then, maybe I’ll send for my old camera or I’ll pick up a used one at the thrift store.

I want to see again. I really want to see again.

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2 responses

  1. When going to an amazing place, ALWAYS bring your great camera. Two exceptions in my case. One. If it’s rainy, wet, or muddy, forget about it. Especially if the camera is expensive and Two. In certain areas, you need to keep your hands on the camera 24/7 because of sticky fingers. Great post!

  2. Thanks for the promotion! I love me some blog cross-inspiration.

    So it’s safe to say you’ll never leave home without the camera again? Excellent. Never leave home without the tools of the trade. Clothes and everything else are of secondary importance. Always have what you need to make the best art possible (conveniently enough for writers, that just means pen and notebook)..

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