On Christmas, not this last one but the one before that, my kids and husband gave me a digital camera. It’s awesome. It will do many things. It can be adjusted just about a million different ways to capture all kinds of images. All I have to do is use the proper settings for the photo I want. So I sat down with the manual that came with the camera and begin to study. I found all the parts listed in a diagram with lines from the names of the parts from those words to the corresponding part on the drawing of the camera. I managed to charge the battery and find the button to push for taking a picture and remembered that you have to press this half way, pause, then press all the way. So far so good.
So on a reasonably pleasant winter day I charged up the battery, inserted it into the camera, set it on full automatic and took a walk around the neighbor hood to snap a few photos. Shot a few trees, a cat, one of the neighborhood kids, a front door, and quiet by accident, my boot. Back in the house I got out the card reader my daughter showed me how to use and loaded my images to my computer. A couple of hours and a few cuss words later I actually managed to see my efforts on the screen. It became painfully obvious that I needed to put in some work to get any good at this at all.
We are fortunate enough to have a community college not too far away and they offer a beginners photography class. I signed up. The instructor for this class is an engineer who photographs special occasions as a side business and has exhibited his work in local galleries. A very knowledgeable and patient man. He began the first class with a discussion about F-stops (what?) and aperture (I had a small idea what that is) and how to choose and frame an image. It all made sense while he was saying it and I nodded as I fiddled with the settings as directed (or as near as I could get to as directed). I left with a bit of a headache and a homework assignment that involved placing an object on a table and shooting it with several variations of settings then down loading the photos to a card to show at the next class. I did nothing but photography homework for five days and got to the second class with seven pictures of a blue goblet that really were not that different from each other. Even so, I stayed, determined to become proficient with my camera.
Now you have to understand that there are a couple of handicaps here. One, engineers make me nervous. All that precision and planning and using numbers to define everything. Exact numbers. Engineers don’t understand winging it, and winging it is my strong suit. I have hated numbers since third grade and use them only as absolutely necessary. Two, the last time I took a class was belly dancing about twenty years ago and longer than that since I had to actually study anything. My brain may well have atrophied.
Class number two was all about light. Flash or not. Sun or shade. Indoors or out. Reflectors and slave flashes and background. We took shoots of each other and the mundane furniture in the room and I felt like I might be coming along. Then, homework. Go home and use the manual settings on your camera for a portrait shot, a landscape, and an action shot and print those to show the class. Well I tried. The laundry piled up, meals were carry-out or fix your own and the dust bunnies took over the house. The portrait of my dog was not centered and his eyes were straight from the devil. The landscape of the lake shore was too busy and the tops of the trees were cut off. After hanging out at the ballpark for an hour or so I gave up on the action shot. At this point I was just grateful the class was not for credit.
The class met for six sessions and I attended four. I could have managed the last two but something else I wanted to do came along, so I ditched class. Not actually a first for me. The camera and I have an on and off relationship now. I really like what I am told is micro photography. Close ups of flowers, birds (really hard to get) odd things I see along the road side like a discarded shoe and sometimes just a leaf. Sunsets are another favorite and I never get tired of lake scenes. I always thought I wanted to take a lot of pictures of the family get-togethers and outings with friends but I get too involved enjoying myself to stop and take pictures.
Those shots I should have or could have taken have to stay just a memory without being preserved by the camera and I am okay with that now. I got okay with it recently when I sat down to go through some very old photos of great aunts and uncles that I barely remember. I identified all that I could and made notes for whoever looks at these when I am no longer around to tell the story behind the picture. I realized that the real memories died with people who held them inside while they lived. I have a picture of my son holding his sister so carefully on his lap when she was no bigger than a house cat. I haven’t looked at that picture in a long time because I don’t have to. It lives in my head to be recalled at will. When my brain and I are no more the memory will also be no more. That’s just how it is. It’s my special memory and you can’t have it.