, ,

A shiny new object changes everything – and nothing

Last year I got an awesome deal on a camera. I “saved” over $500 off the purchase price. (And no, I didn’t buy it off the back of a truck. It was last year’s model, on sale, and I had credit card points.) Of course I could have saved more by passing on the camera and continuing to take photos and videos with my phone like most people.

FlowerI justified the purchase in various ways. I was writing a novel, Darkroom, in which a photographer and her photographs play a central role. Hands-on experience with an actual camera was research. (The photographer in the novel is old school. She uses shoots with film and develops her prints in a darkroom. I wasn’t ready to go there, especially since darkroom equipment is hard to find.)

Instead of shelling out money on stock photos, I could use my own high-quality photos on my blog and in the process learn more about working in Photoshop. And I could make videos!

I could ask an onlooker to videotape some of my riding lessons so I could study and improve my form.

As webmaster of the local Scrabble club, I take pictures at the meetings. This particular camera has a setting called “Beauty Shot” (I’m not kidding) that processes images of faces and eliminates flaws. I could get better shots of the people who hate having their picture taken. They might stop threatening to kill me if I posted photos of them online.

PlaygroundAnd the shiny new camera would give me a reason to detach my brain from my iPad and get my butt out of the house once in a while.

Once I started snapping pictures, I came to some unhappy realizations. All the fancy features were pointless until I knew how to use them, so I studied the manual enough to be minimally competent. More than that would take practice. A lot of practice.

SAMSUNG CSCAnd I soon realized were things that my camera couldn’t do. A few outdoor sessions showed me that even with the correct settings I couldn’t capture birds in flight. My husband, Joe, a sometimes photographer who gave me invaluable help in researching Darkroom, explained that I needed a lens with a longer focal length, which would cost almost as much as I’d spent for the camera.

HydrantMaybe someday . . .

It wasn’t only the camera that had limitations. I lacked the eye for photography. My gaze slipped past the unlikely objects that make good photos. I didn’t think in terms of frame or perspective or angle. Joe helped me. When I walked around town taking pictures, he came along and pointed out what I overlooked. He set tasks for me. One was to photograph the fire hydrants in our neighborhood. I came to think of the project as a travel guide for the dogs who might journey to Charleston, Illinois.

His tutoring helped. I learned to see more possibilities in places so familiar that I’d stopped  seeing them.

Locked

And I made a heartening discovery. Photography helps my writing. Not only do I see the world in a new way, but my photographs have become a kind of memory, capturing mundane images in more detail than I could ever remember.Shadow Box

But there are limitations here as well.

Memory is more than an visual image. It’s the smell of mud, the bark of a dog and the rumble of distant thunder, the flutter of the wind and the damp touch of the air. Above all it’s the convergence of thoughts and moods with the input from the senses—that complex thing called experience.

Broken Dishes

,

Techno-Lust


In
my heart I keep hoping each new piece of technology will be the spark that sets my writing on fire. I wasn’t always this way. Once I detested the term “word processing,” which seemed to imply that the act of writing was like pulverizing fruit in a blender. My techno-lust began the day Joe brought home a K-Pro he’d borrowed from a friend. Long extinct now, the K-Pro was a clunky box with an ugly little screen, no hard drive and a tiny fraction of the memory of the simplest electronic device today.”Just try it,” Joe said.

From that first day, the K-Pro set me free. My writing became more fluid. I loved being able to move words around without inking corrections on a page or starting over with a blank sheet of paper. Pen and typewriter had shackled me, made me reluctant to write anything down until I felt sure of it. With a word processor I could change sentences, shuffle paragraphs, and rework passages by pressing a couple of keys.

I imagined being able to write with the quickness and suppleness of thought. Impossible, I knew. But maybe, with the right device, I could come close.

The K-Pro was succeeded by a Compaq that I named Lloyd. I loved Lloyd. I spoke to him as though he was a person. But eventually he became obsolete, and with sorrow I replaced him with a custom-made Ares. It had a hard drive and a huge screen. Thirteen inches!

The Ares cost $2000. In fact, every computer I’ve bought has cost around that much, because I always want upgrades – a more powerful motherboard, a bigger hard drive, more RAM. My techno-delusion began to cast a disturbingly sexual shadow that sometimes obscured the reason for the computer.

“You use it to write,” Joe reminded me. “You don’t need all that shit.”

But apparently I did. 

Each new computer became smaller and faster but not radically different from its predecessor. Then I bought an iPad – a computer almost as light as a notebook of lined paper, with a screen like silk beneath my fingertips. We were almost one, my iPad and I.

Almost.

My clumsy, imprecise fingers fumbled over its virtual keyboard, hunting and pecking, making a typo every other word. So I bought an Apple wireless keyboard. Thin and elegant, primed to couple with my iPad, it moves me closer than ever to the magical ideal – writing as fluid and spontaneous as thought.

With my iPad and wireless keyboard my writing can catch fire wherever I go. All I have to do is provide the fuel. No technological miracle can do that for me. Not yet, anyway.