I’ve recently taken up photography after a life-long distrust of it.
I never appreciated the artsy, shadowy pictures that hung outside the photography lab in my high school. Close up after close up of melting ice on tree branches or rivulets of water running down sides of buildings or a single bud struggling to bloom against the beatings of winter. Black and white, of course, giving the significance and weight.
Were these exercises in composition and light and exposure? Not sure. I was too busy being a choir nerd to find out. The photos seemed self-aware, self-important, chi-chi, like most high school arts. (Ask me about choir.) Perhaps I was supposed to be getting some sort of message from the bud or the icicle or the immortalizing close-up of leftover tater tots cast in the braces of some unidentified freshman, but I didn’t get it.
I wanted to take pictures of things. I wanted to be artsy in my own way. By artsy, of course, I mean ironic. Funny. Real. But mostly funny. I wanted moments. Not geological moments. Not weather moments. Not inoffensive calendar moments. Not dental moments. Life moments that would never be captured in a precious side table porcelain figurine.
Maybe I should have taken that photography class. Perhaps after Intro to Photography came Advanced Photography: Capture the Moments. Now, granted, crappy disk cameras like I had do not readily capture great moments. Even if I understood composition and light and the elusive moments I wanted to have so I’d have something to snap, my disk camera would have done them justice.
I learned the fine art of photography from my dad, who has the artistic vision and heart of your typical organic chemist. We inexplicably thrust the role of archivist upon him, rather than my mother, who actually has more of an artistic background and, as a former model, should probably know a thing or two about picture taking. However, Mom suffers from Chronic Technical Ineptitude and Mechanical Panic. When things go wrong with machines, technology, or anything that requires electricity, she will randomly and forcefully hit every button and go to every menu option available…except, sadly, for the HELP button. The poor woman just had to call an electrician in because she had hit the test button on her outlet and despite my telling her repeatedly to press the reset button, she didn’t. She called the electrician. He pressed the button for her.
That I don’t have a picture of.
In the interest of actually getting some photos taken, the job was Dad’s by default. This Tasking to the One Least Incompetent was similar to how driving tasks were divided in my family.
In the same vein, Dad almost alwaysdrove. My mom would complain, and on long trips, my Dad would scoot over and let Mom take an easy leg. In the biannual trek to Chicago from New Jersey, Mom drove the 3 hours through Ohio. Invariably she got pulled over within the first 30 minutes and, humiliated and infuriated, would get back in the passenger seat and stare blankly out the side window for the next twelve hours.
Not that I have photographic evidence of this.
My mother’s job was to get the photos developed and organize them. In her careful Catholic School handwriting, she’d lightly pencil in names, the ages, location. Then she’d toss it in a shoebox where they’d go forgotten.
However, Mom had little motivation to organize and label a bunch of still-life photos that celebrated not the moments, but the scenery, settings, and props of our lives. My dad rarely took pictures of the family. Oh, sure, if we were standing next to the Liberty Bell or the giant sandcastle shaped like the Playboy Mansion, we would accidentally be in the shot, most likely looking away from the camera. We rarely were asked to pose for pictures. For as much as we bickered, getting the kids in the same frame may have been dangerous or resulted in some too-honest expressions of sibiling rivalry.
I therefore have twenty years worth of pictures of birthday cakes, the overview of landscaping in our old house, and a few shots of family cars after they’d been washed clean.
My dad took every picture with a Star War lens — from a galaxy far, far away, as though he didn’t want to disturb the wildlife by getting to close or focusing the camera. Most likely, he just didn’t see that the subject of the photo was being framed by immense amounts of sky or wall or dirt piles. My dad would have done well in my high school photography class. He kind of grooves on still life. And no, that is not a comment about my mother.
Like many photography Auto-flashes in the pan, I began taking pictures when I fell in love, got married, and had kids. The reason is twofold. Firstfold is that this is a convenient way to avoid being in the picture. I have a delusional self-image…I think my nose is adequate, my hips slender, and my wrinkles mere shadows, and my hair full and healthy. Pictures are an ugly truth. In some sort of universal practical joke, the pictures where I seemed to be at an attractive angle and my hair is behaving are invariably the pictures where I was caught unaware, mid-sentence, so my eyes are half-closed and my mouth twisted into some horrible gaping shape most often seen in tribal tattoos. (In other words if my body looks good in a picture, odds are that my face looks like it’s been attacked by the special effects department of a zombie film. If my face looks good, my body looks like it’s been attacked by an aeronautics department.)
Secondfold is the nagging undercurrent that tends to pull at me every single night before I drift off into a slumber made heavy by being the mother of two toddlers. It’s going so fast. I want to remember the moments. Yes, the birthdays, the milestones, but mostly the everyday unimportant moments that weave together to make a person. Those special moments of delight and giggling and adventure.
I learned from Huzzy and his family, all excellent photographers, to get in close, to get at my kids’ level. Some of my first efforts into this, using the “good” camera:
For Mother’s Day we ordered a photo book of the boys first two years of life, arranged chronologically. It’s the best gift we could have given her. The pictures are mostly close-ups of the boys, at their level, in their face. Occasionally there is some backdrop of something unimportant just to orient the viewer. Mostly, it is my intention that our family stay out of the shoebox.
However, at the end of the day, I am my father’s daughter. For him. Note the gorgeous tulips I have been thrilled to finally be able to have after 38 years. Note also the garden hose draped artistically towards the right.
It’s deep and significant.