31 January 2011

Pictures of Pictures


Yesterday, I wrote this:

…writing about writing, blogging about blogging, making movies about movies, in general doing art about art is so limited and limiting. Like all narcissism and narcissists, it is a frightful bore. It is not reflective of a world view that looks outward, in wonder.

Then, I wrote this:

As I wrote those words, there flashed in my mind an old photograph of my mother holding me as an infant. She has her back the the camera, but she is looking over her shoulder, grinning, as I try to climb over her shoulder. I am staring at the viewer with big, baby eyes.

But what I was really doing was trying to get at the camera my father was holding. He was a great photographer. He always had a camera, and he was always taking pictures. It was a part of my life to be photographed all the time. Later, I would learn to just ignore the camera and talk through the camera to him. Looking at these old photos, I never remember the scene as the camera showed it, I remember my dad with a camera. I remember what the scene looked like from the other direction.

My father had a lot of cameras, possibly hundreds. Sometimes, he would let me handle them. They were fascinating devices. What child could resist?

He would give me these old, useless, broken cameras, and he had many of those too. One in particular I remember was a Kodak "Brownie." This does not actually date me. It had belonged to my grandfather when he was boy, and it was old then. They were a kind of recyclable disposable camera. They came loaded with film, and when it was full, you took it in, and they would develop the roll and give you back the camera with new film. In my time, and my father's time, no one handled that old model any more. My father explained that this camera had a "leak."

"A leak?"

"Yes. It has a crack. Light leaks in. It spoils the film."

Light. Leaking. Wow.

As I understand it, there were several evolutions in the design of the Brownie, and later ones had user loadable 120 film, but mine was the oldest kind. One could not open it. It took, as my father said, "special tools and a darkroom."

But happily, I went around "taking pictures" with it. It had the tiniest viewfinder. One had to hold it just so simply to see through it. But it would make a satisfying click, and it had a neat ratchet sound it made when you wound the film. I took very good care of that camera. I knew I was being tested. I had to prove I could take care of things before I would be trusted with better things.

I would "take a picture," and then go to the drugstore to have it "processed." I would give the developer instructions I had heard my dad say, like, "Push it two stops." He told me that made dark pictures lighter. I wanted bright photos.

Then, while it was being processed at the imaginary drugstore, I would take cut up squares of paper, and draw the photos I saw in my imagination. I used a pencil. The gray tones were more photo-like than my crayons. The world was in color; the pictures were in black and white. The world was bright and huge; it was heavy, solid, hot, or cold; when you turned a corner, there was always something there. The pictures were thin and tiny, feather-light and always just a little bit cool; when you flipped them over, they were always the same.

But sometimes, those weak, thin, facsimiles could be so very beautiful. They were not reflections of reality; they were their own reality.

It may strain your credibility to think that a very young child may have wondered what was real and what was not real and to ponder the overlap between them, but I did, and probably you did too.

Today, After re-writing the above, a little, I wrote this:

Writing is like that also. It is so impoverished and massless. It is amazing that we can even recognize reality in it at all.


bruce said...

awesome post...the thin line of reality is often croosed without knowing, because reality is perception and perception is reality...

Bruce Johnson JADIP
Evil Twin
stupid stuff I see and hear
The Dreamodeling Guy
The Guy Book
The Guy Book

Tom G. said...

Wonderful post Rick. I have had similar thoughts regarding memories. I think that over time, our memories become memories of earlier memories, the actual events becoming lost in the translation. When we are old we are left with well worn memories, like smooth rosary beads, that we repeat over and over like a person praying the rosary.

Tom G. said...

Here's the link to the post on memory, if you are interested.


Richard G. Crockett said...

In backwards order...

@Tom- I read that post and commented. Here's the link again in clickable form On Memories.

It is certainly possible to recover lost memories, for I had totally forgotten about that old Brownie.

There is a follow up story. My younger brother broke it open and used it to scoop dirt. This was after my parents divorced. I gave my brother a good beating, actually broke his nose, and got in terrible trouble, so the memory was obscured by rage atop great sadness. At some point, I let that all go. I let myself be just as enraged as I was entitled, and I let myself have a good cry. Both.

Magically, things before the blinding emotions reappeared, full of joy.

@Bruce- Glad you liked it. I'm pretty sure that shorter, tightly focused posts are the way to go now. Playing with Twitter is re-teaching me the virtue of effective brevity.

Richard G. Crockett said...

Oops! I linked to THIS page, not Tom's page. Here is the right one.

StephanieC said...

I don't have a lot of childhood memories. I mostly remember feeling sad.

My parents were very good to me, I didn't have a "rough" childhood, but I just forget or choose not to remember, I guess.

Richard G. Crockett said...

Hi Stephanie,

Yeah. Memory is a strange thing. Talking with others and hearing what others say who talk about it, tells me it's a wild variable, and it does not always seem to have anything to do with trauma at all.

But I'm sorry you felt sad. Wouldn't it be nice to remember the happy times? Sometimes the sun shines brightly on the world, and we feel its warmth.

i really enjoyed remembering that funky old camera and my innocent view of the world. I like the kid I was, and in many ways, I wish I could be more like him.

Thanks for your thoughts.

M.L. Gallagher said...

I love the warmth of the memories as you told the story. I felt bathed in that lovely glow of time passed coming into focus now.

Thanks -- really good read.

Richard G. Crockett said...

@ M. L. Thanks! I enjoyed writing this more than anything else I have put up so far.

Following your link, I see that you must have popped in from One Stop Poetry. I like that blog. Nice and busy with good writers who also read not just the original post, but each other's comments.

Jay said...

If memories are lost, then sometimes they can be found at a later date by following a thread along a deviating route. From A to B via xyz.

On viewing your profile I was interested to see Occupation: Wood Carver. Have you ever worked in cotoneaster wood? We used to have regular visits from a local woodcarver who raved about our cotoneaster. In the interest of art, we handed him a saw.

Richard G. Crockett said...

I have never carved cotoneaster, but if I recall correctly, it's related to Hawthorne? A fairly large shrub with tart red berries? Super hard wood?

Thanks for your comments, Jay. Appreciated.

Jay said...

Yes, Hawthorne and Cotoneaster are related. Ours had twenty or so trunks from ground level ranging from about 6 inches diameter to twigs. Cut one branch out and another two would grow. The artist harvested wood annually until we shifted. He brought his chainsaw after the first time.

Richard G. Crockett said...

Ah. Thanks. I have not seen pieces so large as you say, like six inches.

I just wikied this, and I see that this wood is prized for such things as tool handles. I wonder if it would make a good boktu? (Japanese wooden sword). Sounds like it.

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