Take a Photograph

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.

One of the handful of pictures I took in college.

A California sunset

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7 responses to “Take a Photograph

  1. Hmm, I never thought about how taking good pictures might impact my ability to write well…

    “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 also took the opposite approach: if I have unlimited (digital) photos, why not try a few new things and see how they go? Why not take a hundred shots to make sure I get one I like, instead of just taking one and hoping/praying it turns out (since I don’t want to “waste” more film)?

    But yes, I too have stopped taking as many photos as I used to, and I don’t know why. Just charged up my AA batteries, though, and loaded them into Simone, my sexy little Panasonic. Time to get some more use out of her and my Flickr account! 😉

    • I love how the camera has a name. I feel like that’s my problem, my camera is unnamed, it’s just a piece of plastic. If it were George, or Gary, or something like that, a real person, maybe I could convince myself to spend more time with him/her.

  2. writer-at-heart

    Well I just traded in my Blackberry for a Droid 2, which has the most amazing photographic abilities, so now I can continue to take a million photos even faster. However, before such miracles were available, there are years with no images, except those in the mind. I would think the middle ground is where the truth is!

  3. Nice : ) We should do a photo tour together in LA. I’m very into photographing again, as well. Last Saturday, I spent another day in Cologne to take some pictures from outside the cathedral and the station. I think next time I’ll drive to Düsseldorf airport and take some pics there.

  4. I love your shots, you have a great eye.

    California sunsets are the best, but back when I was visiting California, I never took the time to capture them rather than a quick snapshot.

    Best of luck with your writing and photography. I have a few friends out there and I know how rough it can be.

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