17 September 2008

View from the outside

The photos are mostly blurred, as if I knew the shutter would click just before the picture was taken, and turned my face away, or moved further from the lens. Time, then, seemed both fleeting and infinite, requiring no permanent record.

Some photos are so old that the emulsion has broken down, and I am only a shadow, ghost of lifetime past.

In others, I am a twist of body, a flash of white teeth in a dim room the flash bulb didn't quite penetrate, a glint off huge glasses;

or someone's art project.

Usually I am the one behind the camera--I've had a camera since I was 10--so there are few pictures of me extant. I don't mind this, though it bothers some of my family greatly.

Generally, I'll take a camera along when we travel as a family, but I don't take one when I take off on my solo trips. Those trips are quick, and I'm not there to sightsee, though on several jaunts last spring, I was compelled to use the rotten little camera on my phone to take some pictures of San Juan, Moline and St. Paul, where I found some really lovely scenery. I did not, of course, buy the phone for the camera.

When we travel as a family, I use the opportunity to take pictures of the kids. They grow so quickly, and sometimes they have been young enough not to really remember visiting certain places. But for the souvenirs I create for them, usually I am happy to largely allow the trips to live in memory. As I often tell my family, I don't want to be remembered as Aunt Mabel and her summer vacation slideshow. I would also generally prefer to be living the adventure than watching it through the camera lens unless I have a definite reason to be framing up the world through a viewfinder.

There were things I wanted to preserve this summer, and I took hundreds of pictures in Europe. Rediscovering a part of my life through the lens was as thrilling and inspiring as discovering the world I was documenting. Sometimes there is a thin line between documenting and doing: hanging off the side of a ship at sunset is both. Then there are the moments that no camera can capture, those moments that thrill through the blood, that stop the world for an instant, that live in the camera of memory alone. Thus, I took no photos from the kayak or the back of the horse. I took no pictures at concerts.

What did you record? Were you preserving a memory? Do you remember the moment?

Go listen to some good music: "View from the Outside" from the album Mania by The Lucy Show.

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