In the days before digital cameras, I had several bouts of being a serious photographer, serious in the sense of owning good cameras, taking thousands of pictures, and even getting paid to take some of those pictures. I was primarily a black and white photographer, though not a darkroom person, and therefore availed myself of the excellent photo labs in the towns and cities where I lived—Santa Cruz, Sacramento, Berkeley.
When I moved to Mendocino eleven years ago, photography was completing the grand switcheroo to digital everything, while I was still possessed of a three-pound Nikon requiring actual film. Shortly after arriving in these hinterlands, I discovered there was no easy access to an excellent photo lab, so I stopped shooting and eventually gave my camera away.
Marcia brought a little digital camera into our marriage, and over the past decade I have occasionally borrowed her camera to snap pictures she then uploaded to her computer and sent to my computer via email.
A week ago, after several years of yearning to have a camera of my own, I purchased a diminutive Nikon weighing a mere five ounces. I must confess that electronic gizmos, even very simple ones, befuddle me, and that is the main reason I waited so long to buy a digital camera. I do not own a mobile phone, either smart or dumb, nor will I ever. For the likes of me, owning such a device would be akin to carrying around an incessantly yapping dog that can never be appeased.
In any case, my new camera arrived at the post office today and the package was so small and light, I assumed the box couldn’t possibly contain a camera but must be the memory-card-reader thingy I ordered to go with the camera. I left the little box in my truck parked in the Harvest Market parking lot and went to shop in the hardware store and in the market, today being 10%-Off-Wednesday.
And on my way into the grocery store, I saw a photograph I would have taken if I’d had my new camera and knew how to use it. A balding jowly middle-aged man was standing at the back end of his station wagon and gazing across the street at Harvest Market. In the man’s station wagon, with their heads sticking out the open back window, were two dogs gazing avidly in the same direction the man was gazing.
One of the dogs was an enormous basset hound, the other a gray frizzy-haired mutt. I surmised the man was overseeing the dogs while the man’s wife was shopping in the grocery store. The picture was poignant and hilarious; poignant because the dogs and the man were all obviously yearning for a glimpse of the person they were waiting for, and hilarious because the man’s face resembled the basset hound’s face to such an uncanny degree, man and dog might have been twins.
So taken was I with this untaken photo, upon entering the market I asked the first person I met if he had a camera (since nowadays many people carry phones that are also cameras) but he did not have one. He did, however, look out the window at the man and the dogs across the street and say, “Now that’s a great picture.”
Returning to my truck with a shopping cart full of discounted groceries, I came upon another photo I would have taken if I’d had my camera and knew how to use it. The picture was of my old white pickup, which I used to think of as a regular-sized truck, parked beside another white pickup one-and-a-half-times larger than my pickup, and that second pickup was parked beside a third white pickup one-and-a-half-times larger than the second white pickup, and that third white pickup was parked beside a fourth white pickup easily twice as big as the third white pickup—my truck now seeming toy-like.
When I got home and unloaded the groceries, I brought forth my new camera and handled the tiny thing as if it was made of rare Venetian glass. With the utmost care, I inserted the battery and memory card and started charging the battery. Two hours later, when the green light stopped blinking, I took my first pictures.
Alas, the memory-card-reader thingy I bought to go with my new camera did not come in the same box with the camera, and after checking to see why the memory thingy hadn’t arrived, I learned that the package arrived at the Mendocino post office four days ago and must have been misplaced. So I will go there tomorrow and beg Robin or Lara to find the blessed thing for me.
Perhaps by the time I finally get the memory card reader, I will have stopped handling the camera as if it is an uncooked egg. Perhaps not. Since the advent of computers, I have tried and failed to use digital gadgets and apps and keyboards and other electronic things most people have no trouble with. Why have I failed? Because I am not merely a techno doofus, I am techno-phobic.
When I was in my early thirties, I was robbed by incredibly thorough thieves. They left only my piano and a queen-sized mattress. They not only took my stereo and records and books and guitar, they took my dishes, silverware, furniture, electric typewriter, food out of my refrigerator, linens, clothing, shoes, brooms, garden tools, vacuum cleaner, and my most excellent camera.
I eventually replaced everything except the records and the camera, and for several years I was content not to take pictures. Eventually, I bought a new camera, found an excellent photo lab, and got back into shooting black and white photographs. In retrospect, that break from taking picture was good for me and my neural pathways—freed me from obsessively looking for pictures to take and allowed me to just be in the world.
(Todd Walton’s web site is Underthetablebooks.com.)