This year for Christmas, what I really wanted was a new camera. One of those chunky jet black numbers with a manual as daunting as Moby Dick and a lens you can pop off to replace with something bigger, more obscene. Something that can take pictures like the ones that come pre-installed in the picture frames we buy.
What I make do with is a basic point and shooter that issues an artificial clicky sound to indicate that a photo has been shot, and equipped with settings like "children & animals" and "creative light effect," and a flash I don't dare use because if I wanted everything to look like I lived under fluorescent lighting, then I would have had fluorescent lighting installed. But I get by with it just fine, I suppose, though no great feats of art are produced or even attempted.
So a new camera tops my list of Things I Would Like a Really Good Excuse to Buy, also known as, Things I Would Be More Inclined to Push For if We Had the Second Income I No Longer Bring In.
Then again, I do have this other one, my last birthday present before having kids. It doesn't have auto-focus. Or auto-anything. The viewfinder is foggy. I have to reckon light levels and subject distance. And fidget with knurled rings and dials for shutter speeds and f/stops and focus ranges, forgetting and hazily guessing at what each does for the clarity of a picture. The shutter release button is temperamental, prone to random jamming and curse-causing. No point in attempting any photos in the evening hours. And then there's the matter of film development. Turnaround at Target, according the person responsible for shipping them off-site for developing, is ten days. The last roll I turned in took three weeks of nagging and pestering to get back to me.
But this mid-century Kodak, with its quaint bellows and anachronistically non-plastic heft, has yielded my favorite family photos, portraits of my children the way I'd like to remember them, scenes from my environs that feel wonderfully mundane. There's a haziness that lends these photos sentimentality where there's lack of photographic skill. And there's a lot of skill I lack. Any shot with anything in focus, I consider a success. And, partly because many are shot in less than optimal lighting conditions which wash them in yellows and greens, they're instantly elevated to heirloom status.
I have been accused, with the digital camera, of taking too many photos of a single subject in a single setting, resulting in a phenomenon we call Baby vs Hard drive. In this never-ending battle, we are forced to either callously delete dozens of near duplicates of our children not crawling, or to periodically increase computing potential. That's not an issue with this camera. First, because I can't just fire one shot after another in rapid succession, aimed at a baby who will learn to walk away before I get the perfect shot. Second, because film is not an abundant resource. And what little I have is precious commodity, to be reserved for the right conditions.
The result is, of course, far fewer photos, but a higher percentage of keepers. They're all a bit crappy because, well, I'm crap at the details of photography. I'm not good at gauging light or distance, or finding vantages that aren't visual cliche. But in each of these prints, I can remember being behind the camera, what I was thinking (because there's a lot of thinking involved in producing a shot), and I'm emotionally hooked.