Thursday, April 2, 2015

See and be seen

Cameras: Good or evil? Discuss.

I'm in a love-hate relationship with cameras. Eighty-five percent hate. No, 90 percent …

… Ninety-three percent hate, 7 percent love.

I'm lean on the love.

I hate being in front of a camera (creeping petulance) as much as behind one (childhood anxiety).

Social media, then, has rendered me useless.

If ever you see a selfie I've taken, know that the Apocalypse has come.

The 7 percent love I reserve for good photography and photographers. Also I'm not above using photos for reference in drawing. I'm just not good at photography. Likely I'm jealous. Maybe because I have always liked to draw and deep down I think photography is cheating, somehow. Sure, stand before landscape, press a button and leave, while I'm still drawing this umpteenth leaf!

Which is stupid, of course, because I know photographers who can make the world sing fuller than life with their work. Thankfully our kids did not carry my aversion to carrying cameras, and like them as a tool of art and documentary.

My grandma gave me a Kodak®™ Brownie® when I was eight or nine. I think it was a Brownie® Hawkeye™, a round-edged cube of bakelite™® the color of dark roast coffee. You looked down into the magnifying-lens viewfinder, pressed the button, then turned the knob on the side to advance the film.

It was the age in which things are tossed at children in hopes something sticks, a future forged. Here's a book: Maybe you'll be a scholar. Here's a microscope, kid: You're gonna be a scientist! Models, paint sets, magic tricks, all part of the parent-child parry and thrust of Whatever Will He Become?!

Parents long to see this in their hometown newspaper: "Well, my mom brought home a chemistry set, and that's really all it took. Sorry, is my Nobel Prize blinding you?"

The camera was one of those offerings of hope. And I loved it.

I loved the potential of it, anyway.

The Brownie was the ideal gift since we were just then making a trip to Disneyland®™, grandma in tow. Not only joy, but archived joy!

I got sick. Really sick. Earache, flu-like, what-the-heck-is-the-matter-with-him? sick. Not sick enough to cut the trip short, just too sick for me to care about Disneyland®™ or living or breathing.

At night I lolled in agony in the motel room, keeping my parents up round-the-clock.

By day the PeopleMover®, now defunct, became my friend, snaking about Disneyland®™ at not quite enough speed or amplitude to induce vomiting. On the occasions when my vision cleared, when extreme gravity wasn't pulling the camera violently from my hand to the ground, I took pictures.

None of which you'll see. None exists.

Excited to look back on my Disneyland®™ trip and reclaim good memories from the barf bag, I got my film back from the base exchange to find: I had doubly exposed every image. Every single one. Even triple exposed some.

Grandma ghosted into the topiary … the Matterhorn collapsing into the parking lot … Cinderella's castle crash landing on Knott's Berry Farm … Mickey Mouse as the manic gremlin in your daymares.

See that knob on the side of the camera? You have to turn it after every press of the button. I forgot and forgot and forgot.

I've disliked cameras ever since.

Silly, right? But there you go.

Bad luck, too, since I had to use a camera in my early years as a news reporter. Humble apologies, still, to my readers.

I just could never get what I see with my eyes to come out on film. I took one photo class in college. Ansel Adams was in the class, I think, and shredded the curve. Even when I got the blacks black and the whites white and the midtones ideal, it was always the same: C+.

Being in front of the camera is another matter, to which I summarize: Harrumph!

Also, Why?!

I'm of the age in which all would-be photos of me are group shots, mostly with family, some with friends. Different combinations of people, different backgrounds, same basic concept.

Stand close together. Closer! You're going to have to lean in. Lean in, I said! Now smile! Come on, smile! You always do that!! Why can't you smile?! Now we have to take another!

My dad delighted in screwing up group photos, pulling a face or flashing a finger. Maybe he just didn't like photos of himself, either. If given no other choice, I carry on the tradition. There aren't a lot of photos of me. Memories suffice for me; my pockets are chronically empty of cameras.

Here's the thing: In my mind I'm tall and thin and lithe. A mirror, conspiring with my brain, will sometimes even bear this out. A camera, with one exception, will betray me.
The miraculous exception: My son
captured this of me returning from
Alcatraz. Everything flexes except
for flab, cleverly hidden by limbs.
(Also, it's nearly four years ago,
so less flab to camouflage.)

I know at my core I'm not supposed to fret about body image, but the superficial me has a big mouth and won't shut up.

What few photos emerge of me anymore involve swimming, where after a lifetime of feeling need to cover up, I have laid myself nearly naked to the world, and do so almost daily. That's a big deal for a lot of swimmers, I think, this coming out. It may even be a needless barrier that keeps people from swimming.

No illusions remain for a body stuffed in jammers — the longish swim shorts I wear — and the camera's truth is brutal.

Recent swimming candids reveal: I am not thin and lithe! One could say, with oblique politeness, that I probably float well.

Oh, well.

The truth hurts, but also helps. The camera's honesty reminds me I could stand to lose some weight, for a variety of reasons. Faithful swimming alone is not enough.

Stringent additional measures are called for. Vigilance is all, less for vanity than vitality.

Maybe in the near future I'll have blundered into view of a camera and look closer to the person in my mind. Just don't expect a photo op.
. . .

In other news: Gov. Jerry Brown got hold of my Tuesday post, thank goodness, and finally implemented emergency measures to save water in California's unprecedented drought. Maybe two years too late, but it's not nothing.

"We're in a new era," Brown said yesterday. "The idea of your nice little green grass getting water every day, that's going to be a thing of the past."

 You're welcome. Now, do your part!

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