Sunday, October 06, 2013

i am not a camera*

It's not lost on me that I'm so busy recording life, I don't have time to really live it.  I've become like one of those people I hate, the sort who go to the museum and, instead of looking at the magnificent Brueghel, take a picture of it, reducing it from art to proof.  It's not "Look what Brueghel did, painted this masterpiece" but "Look what I did, went to Rotterdam and stood in front of a Brueghel painting!"
That is David Sedaris writing about his obsession with keeping his journal updated.

He could be talking about me. And my camera.

I have long had a love-hate relationship with cameras.  The love part goes back to the first or second grade when I started documenting the lives of my family and friends.  Dogs were alcays a favorite topic.

I even considered photo-journalism as a career. By sixth grade I had started at least three neighborhood newspapers.  My friend David still talks about the sports story I wrote noting that he had scored a basket for the other team.

The hate part arises from Sedaris's point.  When I get behind the camera, I am thinking asca photographer.  Not a person who wants to drink life deep.

Framing to exclude.  To narrow.  To focus on the specific, not the general.  It is as if I am resurrecting my former life as an attorney.  Thinking like a lawyer and thinking like a photographer are not that disparate.

What I am not doing is being part of the wide spectrum of life around me.  The camera acts as an unintended defensive shield.  My personal SDI.

I am not alone in this feeling.  Theresa of What Do I Do All Day? has commented several times that she will attend an event taking along her camera.  After a few shots, she will set it down and participate in the life around her.

I understand her feeling.  And I have a personal reason to distrust cameras.  It is awfully hard to be the center of attention with a camera pressed to your face.

Now I know a reductionist argument when I see one.  And I just served one up to you.  The topic is not that simple.  Human beings are not binary switches.

Even though there is a tendency for a photographer to frame and exclude, the process helps develop a jeweler's eye for detail.  Just as writing a blog does.

Knowing that I am going to be writing about events in my day makes me more conscious of things that I would otherwise miss.  The trick is remembering that writing and photography are merely tools to appreciate life.

And they can be a pathway to actually enjoying life to the fullest.  The trick is to know when to put down the pen and the camera and to just stand there enjoying
Brueghel's masterpiece.

* -- With apologies to Christopher Isherwood. 

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