(Warning: Some of what follows may accidentally be accurate. Certainly the author is irresponsible for his words.)
I was evidently born a natural model and actor, judging from the volume of 8-mm movie reels, slides and prints, in which I appear, that were found in storage after my parents passed away. But my own first memories of photography were from beside the lens – not holding the camera and actually often forward of the camera but just not in the shot – an observer of the photographic process. All my childhood trips by automobile took at least twice as long as one might expect by the posted speed limits – not that my father drove well below the limit but because of the frequent stops for photographs. Now when one is driving down (or rather west on) Route 66 through Arizona or US 2 in western Nebraska at the speed limit, one rarely anticipates a great photographic scene until it pops up, but with the large truck a few feet from your rear bumper one cannot just stop immediately and take the picture. Unless there were generous shoulders (rare) one needed to continue for a half-mile or so to the next place where a farmer had a passage over the ditch into his field, so that we could stop out of traffic. Then my father would walk back the half-mile for his picture. Of course, this provided a great time for my brother and I to resume our argument over which of us should sit on the right side of the car and which on the left – while my father was gone. I always wanted to trade sides to even up the tan on my arms (those were the days without air conditioning so the windows were always down and elbows out). One quick shot would never do. Even after cameras began to have built-in light meters, one must always take at least three shots of every scene – one at the best-guess of proper f-stop and shutter speed and then one at one-stop over-exposure and one at one-stop less just to make sure. Of course in the end all three would go into the collection. Anyway, a half-hour later my father would return with a half-a-roll less film and our journey would continue for a few miles to the next must-have scene.
Every trip must be documented with a group shot before leaving and once we reached the highway, a shot out the front window of the car showing the centerline over the hood of the car (I found hundreds of these). It’s an unusual photo angle by which to remember all of our cars.
Of course, I grew up to be little better. On Jan’s and my first trip to Europe, I brought 30-rolls of 36-exposure slide film (packed in lead bags) and returned home with it all exposed (well it was three weeks so that works out to only 51.43 shots a day or about 2 per hour but I did sleep some) – and of course I still have every slide, including those that appear as clear as glass and those so dark that I cannot remember what the camera was pointing at (one can only guess from the slides numbered before and after).
Digital photography is undoubtedly a great advance: in technology, in useless shots even in expense. It is a great convenience to be able to electronically erase the bad shots, but who would dare take the risk that it might not turn out to be good after all – hey memory is cheap these days.
It’s a great advance if one takes the original photos electronically, but less so if one is converting old slides and prints into electronic form to consolidate one’s collections. This spring I worked on converting hundreds of slides I inherited from my father (and a few of my own). First of all, I concentrated on slides with people in them – preferably people I thought I knew. I have a rather nice scanner dedicated to photo transparencies (negatives or slides). It holds four mounted slides in a tray and then allows scanning each after adjusting the exposure, clipping the shot, etc. Now once one gets into a pattern I found I could do a slide every two minutes. That seems reasonable until one realized that that is an hour for a 36-exposure role of film or four and a half hours for a carousel tray. If ones time is worth much, one quickly recognizes that the expense of conversion greatly dwarfs the cost of the original film and processing (which at the time the rolls were purchased seemed a significant expense).
Digital camera manufacturers claim that photography is now much less expensive than in the old film days, and it is, of course if one never wants to view the pictures one takes. If one does, then one has several options all of which reverse the savings. Let’s say we want snapshot prints. Well first one must buy a photographic quality printer. These are fairly common today and the old printer purchased for printing out useless text like the one you are reading might serve. But then there is the photo-paper, even in snapshot size this often runs fifty-cents a shot or so but all this is dwarfed the by ink. Every couple of dozen prints and your printer is likely to flash a little red light saying a print cartridge needs to be replaced. Of course with older printers this likely meant replacing a cartridge that contained red, green and blue ink, where only the red was empty and you threw away half a cartridge of green and blue. Many new printers give you separate cartridges for each color now to avoid that, but of course the red cartridge now costs as much as the combined cartridge used to and now only five prints after replacing the magenta cartridge the light for the cyan cartridge lights up and five shots later fuchsia and burnt-umbra. So rather than simply dropping off your film at the drug store and paying twenty-five or thirty cents a shot, one pays about a buck a shot and gets the pleasure of waiting for your printer to print them plus the time for changing ink, restarting the printer and waiting for the print-head cleaning cycle – and don’t let any water or moist fingers touch the print.
Ok so you decide to go the more modern approach and omit paper prints. You now have the pleasure of looking at the shots of your mother-in-law’s turkey from last fall from a chair behind your computer in the den or with the whole family gathered on the floor in front of the fire, crowded around the laptop. Of course, the industry has felt your pain and invented yet another new way to view digital photos, the digital photo frame, which is not really a frame so much as a tiny little laptop with no keyboard, a screen the size of your old snapshots (but 100 times thicker). They can hold a huge number of digital photos on removable memory cards, but unless you pay more than you did for your last laptop, you get no menus to choose the photo you want to see, but rather have view all 2000 shots in order – waiting through hours of those shots of your cousins in every permutation at the last family reunion and pictures of each present being opened last Christmas to get to your mother-in-law’s turkey.
But, of course, I am a complete computer geek and so I am deeply committed to digital photography. Adobe Photoshop is my friend (but there are still menu items I have never determined the use for – exactly when does one want to apply the filter “extrude”? and that “spherize” in the “distort” menu – I could have just used a much cheaper lens. Or the “motion blur” – I get that enough without Photoshop’s help.
In April, I had a meeting in Madrid and so Jan chose to tag along (her being retired is costing us a fortune). We added a little time to each end and visited Toledo, Segovia and Barcelona – and of course I took my camera – and filled a few memory sticks. I think that the Roman aqueduct in Segovia appears in 30 or 40 of them. Now some photographers think that people are the proper focus for most shots. I have always found them an annoyance. In slow, low-light shots, they move causing unintentional blurs. Other times they move right in front of the important part of the shot (that sign documenting that we were looking at a cathedral) just as the shutter finally snaps (five seconds after I pushed the button, because I’m still using a cheap digital camera). Jan may have accidentally appeared in a couple of my shots, but most are of aqueducts, old buildings, cathedrals, and other ancient ruins (that is NOT Jan, I emphasize).
We rode the high-speed train from Madrid to Barcellona. Most of my shots out the window are blurred because the train goes 300 kph or 200 mph most of the way. Barcelona has the most concentrated collection of Art Nouveau (known locally as Modernista) buildings because a large area just outside the old city walls was first opened to development in 1860 and was formally planned by Spain’s most daring architects. Unfortunately, the wild distorted and curved lines of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Mansana Discordia and Casa Mila make my photographs look like I used some of Photoshop’s filters. We had limited time to take advantage of Barcelona’s rich cultural life. I did get in one classical guitar recital in the Palau de la Musica Catalana (I think its architectect was Walt Disney?) and the Museu Picasso and we took the underground tour which goes under the ancient city walls and old Roman era structures that lie under today’s buildings.
But our favorites were Toledo and Segovia. I love the old medieval cities of Europe, the old walls, castles and cathedrals (or Catedral as they call it in Spain) and the way they have preserved them and live a modern life without destroying their past. It was so exciting and yet relaxing to wander the cobble stone streets or have coffee in a sidewalk café in front of a building nearly 1000 years old or a Roman aqueduct 2000 years old. Of course, we had time to see only a tiny fraction of Spain. We must go back, especially to the south.
Of course the biggest news of all, this year, was our daughter Katherine’s wedding to William Carty. We are so happy to have Bill in the family. The wedding took place at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington (state) – a wonderful spot for photography. The service was on a rock outcropping overlooking the water of Puget Sound (actually Roserio Strait). Katherine and Bill live in Seattle where they both teach. Friends they knew at Dartmouth and places they have lived since came from Seattle, New Mexico, Montana, British Columbia, and all over the US to help them celebrate the occasion (the planned activities included hikes, barbecues, talent shows and a kayak trip). I took hundreds of photographs, two of her friends are professional photographers and took hundreds and many other friends took hundreds – contributing all, through the web, to a digital collections of somewhere between 2000 and 3000 photos.
Jan's point of view...
It's been my observation that the person in the family who is the photographer is not the person in the family that has to deal with storing the pictures. If the photographer was also the person who had to find room for the slides or prints, maybe fewer pictures would have been taken. Since I am the person who has to find storage space,* I have until recently been of the philosophy of fewer pictures taken the better. *(Reader beware: I have taken some liberty here with the facts for the consistency of the story.)
In fact, I believe that the real reason most people take photographs is not to look at them later. They are taken only to intensify the immediate emotion of the moment. To validate the experience and to support the fictional idea that if a picture is taken, the moment can be extended indefinitely; the experience can be relived at will over and over and over and over....you get my meaning, right? But alas, once the picture is in slide or print form, it quickly loses its interest and it becomes an object that must be stored. And preserved at all cost. Throwing a picture away is the same as erasing the actual people or events, never to be thought of again (Like erasing a branch of the family tree). Therefore, the task of finding enough room to store them all becomes harder and harder.
One of my aunts had a pretty ingenious solution to her storage problem. Whenever storage became tight, she would send bunches of photographs to relatives which, in her mind at least, should have had some remote interest in them. This tactic allowed the receiving relative the freedom to throw them away guilt free, so it was really a win, win situation.
But I must admit I am a huge fan of digital photography. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of pictures can be stored without impacting physical space at all. Like they disappear and reappear in a wizard's "poof." Send them via email to all your friends and family, to strangers even, and they take up no space whatsoever. Amazing. Now the emotion of the initial event can be multiplied with each email sent. Almost like taking the picture in the first place. Now everyone can experience the super-amazing event just like photographer did! But wait a minute, now the photographer is thrusting his or her experience into the daily life of others without regard as to how they might feel about what now pops up on their computer screen. So, one problem solved another one to take its place? But, no, technology has the solution. Upload all your photographs to a web site, make its address known and recipients can decide to view or not to view. This was the action taken by the friends and family members that attended our daughter's wedding this summer. We all pooled our photographs on a few web sites which allowed us to experience the wonderful, joyous celebration from a wide variety of viewpoints. So, if you are interested in participating in the wedding weekend as well, please visit these websites:
http://www.mywedding.com/billandkat/ (about the wedding)
http://picasaweb.google.com/terryanderson67/BillKatSWedding# (some of ours)
http://www.flickr.com/groups/1154759@N21/ (some by a friend)
And, may the blessings of the Christmas season be yours in the year to come.
Terry & Jan Anderson (Bernardsville, NJ and Oak Harbor, WA), Christmas 2009