Luddite 1. any of the textile workers opposed to mechanization who rioted and organized machine-breaking between 1811 and 1816 2. any opponent of industrial change or innovation.
If you are like me, and I know there are some of you out there, the ones who are still lingering over my typewriter photo as if it were porn, you not only remember but also miss the days of communications and entertainment devices that weighed a ton and required muscle and stamina of body and mind to master, old favorites such as the rotary phone, analog recordings on vinyl platters played and stored in large cabinets, the manual typewriter and the film camera, before these substantial creatures acquired qualifying adjectives and were just telephone, typewriter, record player and camera…it also means you held on as long as you could before embracing all the new technologies out there, which now outgrow themselves so fast, even the most savvy among us tend to arrive at the cutting edge just in time to be directed to the even sharper sexier one up ahead.
Thanks to my many desk jobs in offices concerned with information technologies (what used to be called LIBRARIES), I’ve had to make friends and peace with software and servers and all kinds of data storage and manipulation. But much to the consternation of my managers and co-workers, I have always refused to employ any shortcut type of programming, preferring to do everything as manually and humanly as possible, turning off or ignoring anything automatic I would rather do myself. And yes, I get the know-thine-enemy irony of learning technology in order to disable it! In the early days of ATMs, I wrote a letter to the New York Times to fellow curmudgeon Russell Baker in which I quipped that I would only learn how to use one so I could withdraw all my funds and stuff them under the mattress where money belongs!
Irony again – couldn’t find my original 25 year old newspaper clipping, and didn’t trust the possibly members-only protected link, so I had to use my digital camera to take a photo of the archived version of this 1985 letter on the Times website!!
Nowadays, in my enlightened state, I may allow Google to inform me that (obscure city) is in (sounds like it’s made up country), and Lord knows I owe the company of you fine folks to the magic of the Internet but I will still never let a computer do my math or correct my grammar or be my memory bank. After almost 20 years of schooling, I had better be able to do complicated sums, spell and remember trivia! I do write my blog postings on my laptop, but only because it’s easier to then transfer them to Blogger. The first ideas still get recorded the old fashioned way, with pen and paper, essentials I always have with me whenever I venture forth, just in case something in my head needs to be written down or forever lost. I’m certainly not going to text it to myself!
this poem is a way of keeping warm while waiting
Which brings me to my new digital camera. As long as there are still photo labs on planet Earth processing film, I will use my old Pentax ZX-M, (replacement for the K-1000 that was retired when it began chewing up film 5 years ago) to take pictures I know I will not see again until they come back from the shop. I like being pleasantly surprised. At recent SoWa markets, the image above has received a lot of compliments and questions. It was one of many I took at the Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge on a visit a few years ago. It was the kind of day so vexing to a photographer when the sun plays in and out of the clouds, but having to wait for the right lighting forced me to spend more time with this particular area by the water and those weird root outcroppings, to find not just a good shot, of which there were many to be had, but THE shot. No do-overs, no fixing it later to look like what I really had in my mind’s eye. Perhaps this feeling of having limited opportunity to earn the shot with vigilance, flexibility, luck and good reflexes has become such a part of my creative process I will never adjust to a shoot-now-tweak-later mentality.
But within hours of my getting acquainted with the irresistible abomination known as the digital SLR, I was in love with it. My new Pentax K-X (yes, I admit to brand loyalty) did everything but make breakfast for me. I could even take naked pictures of myself without sending the wrong message to the guy at the photo shop who develops my film! The possibilities of image manipulation were endless…the first shot I took was the result of aiming my camera at the cat just to see how the thing worked. I immediately understood it was way smarter than I am, and I had better approach it with more respect. At the press of a special processing button an uninspired capture became a French Impressionist pastel drawing! What else could this thing do to make me look better than I really am?
Then I realized I could not only mess with digital shots at point of capture and after download, but also revive and refine old shots scanned from film negatives to CD, but in my former ignorance simply set aside as the unsalvageable majority out of a roll of 24. All the elements that made these shots candidates for rejection could suddenly be corrected. I liked this idea of giving the dismissed and discarded a second chance, taking the bad results of good intentions and suddenly making them live up to their potential, or become something completely different altogether! Still, I felt uneasy, as if I were going against everything I believed in as a photographer. But if I could accept revision as part of writing a poem, why not when processing an image? If I had trashed every poem that didn’t come out fully-formed and perfect the moment pen touched paper, I’d have a very small opus indeed. Couldn’t digital captures be seen as a kind of preliminary note-taking or first draft leading to the final image?
future loss, assured and beautiful and hard
It was a rainy day, the color of solitude, I wasn’t sure how such muted tones would translate to black and white film, which responds so well to high contrast lighting conditions. I almost left my camera at home the day I visited the amusement park at Coney Island in NYC, at the height of the ongoing controversy about its fate. The place seemed closed, but I was able to slip through an open gate and walk around the deserted fairways and among the idle rides, and take some amazing shots of this landmark. I had recently discovered that the property had been sold and the new owner had made plans to tear everything down and build a new spiffy oceanside resort in its place, prompting a difficult choice for area residents between economic revitalization and historic preservation, not to mention keeping sentimentality to acceptable levels. As far as I know, the latest news is of the city intervening and a compromise achieved – the old rides like the Wonder Wheel and Cyclone will remain under historic landmark protection, parts of the amusement park will be restored, and the area around it rebuilt with new businesses and housing.
the air tasted of tears
But on that day, the grayness suited the mood of uncertainty and the threat of future loss, and the urgency of possibly being on property not exactly open to the public further enhanced my sense of getting these images right the first time, the only time, maybe for the last time. Myself, and my old Pentax, in my hometown on a gray day threatening rain, in a hurry to get back on the train for the long subway ride back to Manhattan…all of that went into the split second of taking the picture above. I was there as a witness, not a creator. All of that is burned into the negative, and only that can be used to create the image above.