Archive for August, 2010

The heart in the camera

Monday, August 16th, 2010

I live on exactly every single cent that I make.  No wiggle room, no Certificates of Deposit, not even enough savings to pay for dinner at a fine restaurant. 

So it is perhaps symptomatic of something ominous that I just paid for an item on ebay an amount equal to dinner at a fine restaurant, for two, plus the cost of many drinks of really good Irish Whiskey, for two.  Plus the cost of a several snifters of B&B. 

I could so use a drink right now. 

Explaining how I reached this consumer climax would probably be just as dull as describing the climax itself, which is, like too many climaxes, turning out to be somewhat less than the foreplay had promised.  To be sure, some climaxes in my personal ancient history—like from the late 80’s—exceeded expectations, astoundingly so.  Those events…  or rather that one event, if I am to be honest, since only one comes to mind at the moment, came unbidden, had not been hoped for nor anticipated.  I had never for a moment suspected such ecstasy could come to me, or through me. 

So far this climax is not like that one. 

I pretend to be a photographer, much like I pretend to be a writer, though I do not even do the pretending very well.  Thus, I have acquired a number of cameras in the past, much like my acquisition of the paraphernalia of the writer; notebooks, then typewriters, and eventually word processors back when a word processor was actually a discreet physical object rather than merely expensive software on a disc.  Come to think of it now, that first word processor was about the same time as that unanticipated climax, too. 

Well anyway, in my fascination with photographs, I stumbled upon, and then viewed every single image in Sergei Chaparin’s photostream.  I was specifically impressed with this photo.  Considered in the context of Sergei’s huge photographic collection, that photo embodies some things from which I have both always fled, and always missed.  Affection.  Family.  A shared and remembered history.  It appears to me that what is behind his camera is profoundly kind and generous.  And that sparked something in the dry tinder of my desolation. 

As I have always done throughout my life when confronted with the nebulous world of soul and emotion, I focused instead on the gadgets.  As a little kid, I had a fascination, and an aptitude, for all things machinelike.  Gadgets are the manifestations of the ingenuity, the creativity, and even of the love that human beings have within themselves.  And as humans have always been confounding for me to relate to, the gadgets they made were for me the next best thing.  That camera in Sergei’s picture is, I think, a Rolleiflex 2.8f K7F (Type 1).  A gorgeous example of human ingenuity and craftsmanship.  That Rolleiflex was perfectly irresistible for me in the middle of that photograph which reminded me of something I could have become a long, long time ago; a humane and emotionally rich person.  Something which I now fear I may never become. 

The Rolleiflex is a Twin Lens Reflex camera.  I once had a TLR, though a cheap one by Kodak, when I was young and still not so far removed from life as I am now.  Sergei’s Rolleiflex reminded me of that younger me, and that time.  He is gone, and that time has passed.  But I didn’t try to find out where he went, nor did I try to undo the deceptions and evasions that he wrought during forty years of flight from his own humanity, a humanity similar to the one I longingly recognized in Sergei’s photography.  Instead I focused on something else—the camera. 

Trying to find an example on the Internet of an old Kodak camera shouldn’t be too difficult, I thought.  And until today, I could not find an example of the camera that I had in the late 1960’s.  I didn’t know it’s name; I wasn’t even sure it was a Kodak.  I needed a picture of it, and though Google was some help, revealing Kodak cameras which looked very similar to the one I had, I needed more.  The sentiment attached was very strong, so I was driven toward the only rescue available to me when inundated by emotions—obsession with the gadget involved.  Google had led me to ebay, and some images there of cameras.  I looked up examples similar to Sergei’s Rolleiflex.  Nice.  Expensive.  But the way of ebay, especially for me, is like a casino for a gambling addict.  Soon I had forgotten the little Kodak and all the associated bittersweet memories of my past failures to connect emotionally with life, and instead I was researching every type of old film camera.  TLR’s initially; Yashica-Mat 124G’s, Mamiya C330’s, all medium format cameras, yielding a 6×6 cm negative.  As a slave to my addiction, and to fear, I bid on a couple, losing in the last seconds of each auction. 

A Bronica S2A

Impulse buying of anything that is more than thirty years old seems supremely ludicrous.  So, of course, it is extremely active on ebay.  By this time, the photo of Sergei and his brother represented to me not the hope of something longed for, but the disappointment of something I would never have.  And when hope for what is human is lost, the gadget becomes all. 

After closely watching the climaxes of dozens of auctions, and researching other more ‘interesting’ classic cameras, I finally bit, and bit hard.  I don’t know if it is gauche to reveal bidding strategies, but the amount I bid was more than twice the amount I paid for the camera which I finally won.  On ebay one sets a maximum bid, which is not usually the amount you pay.  Even though I bid over $300.00, the amount I paid was just a small increment over the next highest bidder, in this case $155.00.  The camera I got may or may not be worth what I paid, much less what I bid.  But at that moment, the diversion provided from reality was worth every cent I paid and every cent I bid, and then some. 

This is elementary for those who are selling, but a revelation for those of us who buy; people will buy anything, and the reasons have nothing to do with the item on sale, in this case a camera.  Purchasing the gadget is an excuse, the real objective is escape. 

I wasn’t participating in life, when I was 12, with my Kodak Brownie Starflex.  I was desperately trying to stop all those gorgeous, glorious, love-filled, light-filled moments from slipping irretrievably past.  In the Summers and the Winters and the Springs and the Falls of my youth, at the birthday celebrations of family members and friends, at Thanksgivings and Christmases and vacations and Boy Scout camp, I took hundreds of photographs.  And now they are all lost just like that elusive is-ness of being present within every moment, an intangible which I lamely sought to photograph instead of feel. 

The lens is an implacable eye, it tells us nothing.  Through it we see, if at all, darkly.  And through it we capture not a moment from the past, but rather, we capture something from somewhere else.  If we are really good, and really present in the moment and fully conscious, we might retrieve something invisible from the future and hold it hidden within the film, encoded within the visible image, decipherable only by that encounter toward which it was bound, where it was always meant to go, and there to touch a single human heart.