Thursday, October 7, 2010

What I talk about when I talk about pictures (and writing).



I love my camera. I feel naked when I leave the house without one tucked into my bag, just in case something out of the ordinary crops up that I just have to document. I never thought of my obsession with taking pictures as a hobby until recently. It's weird that I can so easily admit to being obsessive about something, but not as easily claim it as a hobby. I've never once pretended to be normal.

Just to make one thing clear, I enjoy taking pictures, not photography. I don't know the first thing about photography, about lenses and proper light settings and aperture or how to develop film. I've never been able to get my mind around which way to turn the dial if you need more light or less or what shutter speed I should be using. All the pictures I took with my mom's old 35mm camera turned out dark and fuzzy which was either because of my lack of skills or the oldness of the film (I like to think the later). In the end it comes down to this; I don't know anything about photography, I just like taking pictures.

The way I feel about taking pictures is very similar to the way I feel about writing. Not to say that I know nothing about the craft of writing like I do photography, not at all. They are both things I love obsessively, (there's that word again) that I do for similar reasons. I have this thing, and I know it's bad but I can't help it. Whenever I go somewhere, be it on a trip or out with friends or even exploring new places on my own, if I don't take at least a few pictures, I get this feeling like it didn't count. Like my experience did not happen if I don't have a picture to prove it. (I know this is a problem and I'm working on fixing it, don't worry.) In a lot of ways I feel this way about writing also, but with writing it's actually true. If I have an idea and I don't write it down somewhere, I'll lose it. It will be as if the idea never came across my head, like it never existed. Because of this you will never find me without a camera in my purse and a notebook in my pocket.

I don't know where this came from, what spurred this need to document my life so closely. I have this fear of forgetting, of growing old and having forgotten my entire life. I need my stories and pictures and e-mails to friends to go back to so I can remember that smile from a boy I liked in high school that made me happy for a week or to see again just how high we climbed that mountain in New Zealand. You always think you'll never forget the most important moment of your life, yet when you are asked to go back and write them down, to list the moments in your life that shaped you the most, it's always a challenge. And who's to say your memories of an event are accurate? Time changes many things. Not even your memory is safe from the great bully that is time. Many times I'll bring up something to my friends I've had since elementary school that I remember as clearly as if it had just happened and am met with blank stares. "I wasn't even there," one friend will say, or, "I don't remember it that way at all." This gets discouraging. Sometimes I feel like I've made up most of my childhood memories. Maybe that's why I think it was so great, because it wasn't real. I don't think that's the case, but you never know.

Sometimes, when off taking pictures, I'll get a gem. That is, sometimes I get lucky and take a picture that makes it look as if I know a thing or two about photography. I assure you I don't, so anytime this happens is purely accidental. Last summer I was in the Kilmainham Gaol (prison) in Dublin, wandering around in the courtyard and not paying attention to the tour guide. We were in an area where prisoners used to be hung or shot by firing squad. I wandered away from the group and noticed that a small girl, probably 9 or 10 years old, had wandered off as well. I had been watching her out of the corner of my eye the entire tour, wondering why her parents thought she might enjoy a tour of a famous prison and wondering even more if she was getting anything out of it. Would she remember? I'm surprised I even remember and I was 22.

There was a black wooden cross sticking out of the ground as a memorial to all those who had died on that spot. The little girl was walking in the shadow of the gray stone wall to the right while the cross was just to her left in the full on sunlight. I took a picture, just for kicks. It was only later that I noticed what I had captured. The little girl looks almost ghost-like since you can't see her face. If you just glance at the picture, sometimes you can't even see her. However the cross, the place filled with the memories of the dead, shines in the light. 100% accident, 100% haunting.

This happens to me a lot when I'm writing as well. Every so often, when I'm not trying or just playing around, I'll come up with something I can be proud of. I was in a creative non-fiction class one time back in college, sitting with my friend Jeremy and talking when we should have been paying attention. We hated that class, the teacher had no idea what she was talking about, lost our assignments and proved each and every class that she did not know my name. It was not a big class. Anyway, Jeremy and I were looking outside at the bright and sunny day and I was expressing my wish that we were out there and not in our current situation. Jeremy at that point had long black hair to his shoulders, always wore dark clothes or a band t-shirt. His skin was extremely white, as if he had never stepped outside in his entire life. Just as I was thinking this, he confirmed my suspicions. "I hate sunny days," he said, "give me rain or snow any day. I hate the sun." I remember thinking to myself that is really depressing. I wrote down in the corner of my notebook, once upon a time there lived the saddest boy in the world…

I could not get the saddest boy in the world out of my head for weeks. I transferred the little line about him into the journal I keep just for little tidbits like this. I even named him. Dorian, the saddest boy in the world. I could not stop thinking about why he was so sad, about what could possibly make someone the saddest boy in the whole world. He would not leave me alone. The next semester it was time for my senior Capstone project, pretty much 40 pages of whatever we wanted to write about. Short stories and poetry collections were preferred. I wrote 70 pages about Dorian. I never told Jeremy that he was the inspiration for the saddest boy in the world (he did read parts of the story and liked it) and I've always wondered what he would think about that.

I write in the same way I take pictures, all over the place and with no end result in sight. Sometimes I take pictures without even looking through the view finder. Sometimes I'll write something in my moleskin like 'sawdust = dad' and then look at it later and wonder what I was talking about. Like I said, all over the place. Before I came to England, I decided that it was time I upgraded to a nicer camera. I have always used the tiny Cannon PowerShots that can fit in your pocket. I did some research (and by that I mean my mom did some research. I would have just gone to the store and picked up the one I thought was the prettiest) and once more bought a Canon PowerShot, but this time a bigger one. It's a PowerShot SX20 IS with 12.1 mega pixels, a view finder and a screen that can flip out and turn around for easier stalker shots. This camera is love. I reasoned that for my year abroad, I deserved a nice camera. In the same vein, I've been looking for a nice journal. I have so many at home half filled or forgotten; I just can't help myself sometimes. I bought a little paperback journal a few weeks ago that I've been using, but it's clear to me now that in England's rain and with my less than water proof bags, it will not do at all. So I'm on the lookout for the prefect journal for this year, something sturdy and, well, pretty, like my new camera. All the better to record. All the better to remember.

3 comments:

DeeRoo said...

A whole blog about recording things and not one photo! Goodness kiddo!

BTW...you are welcomed for the camera!!

Tanner said...

Whatever "problem" you have, it is cause for a proliferation of highly enertaining material. Both your photos and your writing put me in a better mood, even when I was in a good mood to begin with.

Rafael's Mum said...

Great photo! nice blogpost too xx