A way of seeing
3 Jul 2009
Some days, I miss those hours in the darkroom—the time that would pass by unknowingly like a gambling addict in those windowless casinos, the tactile experience of placing the paper in the easel, the turning of that focus knob on the enlarger, the way magic seemed to happen as the picture began to appear on the paper as it soaked in the developer. Maybe I even miss my hands smelling like fixer for the rest of the day, reminding me of the vinegar-scented prelude to the childhood dyed-egg hunts of Easter.
For years, I easily resisted the temptation for a digital camera. I was wary of the picture quality when compared to the film I was used to, I was unsure of the way computer programs might cheapen the art of photography, and, quite simply, I was unable to afford a decent digital SLR. Finally, though, I made the plunge, and though I would have loved to have afforded a D200 (or even now a D700), I can't deny that my Nikon D40x has served me well. Very well.
Like with many photographers, my camera is my lifeline. A few months ago I spilled tea all over it, body and lens. It wouldn't turn on immediately after and I was sure my life was over. My chaplain here at grad school, whom I love but who does not see a great need for sympathy, remarked, "It's not like you lost your eyesight," and I wanted to respond back to her, "Well, it sort of is." Fortunately, after following a friend's advice to sit it in a pile of uncooked rice, it worked fine a few hours later.
Some might describe a camera as a third eye, one more thing that helps you see. But for me, a camera is less an added eye and more like a second brain, one dedicated solely to the capture of memories. I can take pictures of landscapes, of country, city, cars, sunsets, but my energy comes from photographing people and especially photographing the people I know and the people I love. People are fascinating. They're amazing, they're cool, they're crazy, incredible, messed up, weird, and just plain unbelievable, and when I capture these moments it is for me like the endorphin rush of a runner or maybe even the adrenaline rush of a druggie. And people are worth remembering. They are worth looking back on, worth reflecting on the time spent with them.
I have come to realize my digital camera has revolutionized my picture taking life in a way my film camera possibly never would. It has opened up artistic possibilities and has changed the way I view photography. I take immensely more photos than I could have ever dreamed of with film. And with the instant gratification of immediate access to results, it has probably upped the addictive factor of it tenfold, which I don't at all mind.
I love the accessories I can get for my camera. I enjoy drooling over the lenses I can't afford, the possibilities of what I could do even better in the future, even the excitement of the new tripod I bought to replace the one that just broke, but it is the camera itself, and the simple accessories I already have that I love. It is the ability to take pictures at will and to capture the moments and memories of my life as they happen.
I love my Nikon D40x. I love the pictures I've taken with it that are now printed and tacked up on my wall. I love what it allows me to remember. A photograph, I once wrote to a friend, is not in itself a memory, but the key that unlocks it. And when I look back on what my camera has captured, I realize it's certainly an interesting way of seeing.