I picked up my first photo prints of my family today at CVS. It has been more than a year here in LA yet I have never had a strong desire to have pictures in my apartment. Maybe because I feel like this experience is temporary or that this place isn’t so far away, the impulse never really crossed my mind—until this week.
I guess I finally noticed that things are changing. Down the block the Mobil station is now an Exxon. A BevMo opened across the street. The shops along Westwood Boulevard are still mostly vacant, but it would take more than a miracle (or better parking) to change that. Metro fares are a dollar fifty instead of a dollar quarter. How much have I changed since a year ago? I cannot say for sure.
I wasn’t always so bad at keeping track. In middle and high school I remember taking a disposable camera everywhere—from vacations to New York City, Chicago, Russia to trips to the grocery store. Always 35 mm and twenty-four exposures per can, always ready to go. I took photos the same way I wish I could write—quick, unrehearsed, and at my best moments unafraid, whether capturing a stranger head-on or plowing through construction zones for the best shot. Somehow that all changed in college with the first purchase of a digital camera. Maybe once I knew how easy it was to take as many photos as I want I gave up. If everything can be covered—what’s the point of finding that perfect shot? I have several hundred high school pictures and about thirty shots from all of college—all of which sit in a file on my desktop. Depressing, right?
So becoming a good photographer is important to my becoming a good writer, too. As countless authors have pointed out, good books deal in cutting images—portraits of places and people that ring true enough to evoke true character. Few are successful in creating those kinds of penetrating prints that could be considered classics—most miss the mark, get the exposure wrong and end up botching the image. Others are too distracted to find the telling detail, the watch chain dangling from the vest pocket, the bend of a broken nose that can make that scene meaningful.
I want to embody that high school self—the one who spent every morning in a corner darkroom breathing fumes and botching the developer to water ratio. I want to take as many photos as I can—big generous ones that move people and are displayed on walls. But most importantly, I want to keep track, to remember what has happened, where I came from, and who I was. I want to be a photographer, and hey, maybe become a writer in the meantime.