Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Confessions of a Recovering Luddite

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.

Petite P

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.

 Call me old fashioned


  1. You are right, my typewriter, Apple PC that weights a ton, and Big Bottle mobile phone which I still keep. Yes, I did linger around looking at your typewriter for a while before moving on.
    Cheers for old times.

  2. Gabriella...once again, such a wonderful post. If not for the technology I had to accept and learn in libraries, where would I be also? Even a year ago, I was scoffing at the idea of having a blog, facebook, twitter -- who would care what I had to say? And now, well, who cares what I have to say, but I'm saying it anyway! There is always a plus and a minus to any new technology, but as each is adopted, it becomes part of the evolution of a culture, it seems. I think I read that early on folks thought that people couldn't survive a trip in the automobile, as it went so fast....but now look at us and the effect our dependence has had on cities and towns across the country. I've drawn the line at texting (can't see the need for it for me), and not being a photographer I was able to make the leap to a digital SLR (we also have the K-X!) which allows me to take "real" pictures, even though I don't know what I'm doing! I guess I'd have to say I've become just a little more open to all the new technology, but I'm still slow to get on the train...a Luddite at heart.

  3. well I agree to you, I think technology is another tool to use, but I think that only technology without creative is nothing

    this post is wonderfull as always I like so much your blog it is really well done, with love

    ahhh technology without the passion to learn is empty too

  4. I love the joy in this piece and the way it builds through words and pictures, right to the end. The tools I love are those which appeal intrinsically most as objects — old wooden shovel handles, my mother’s cooking implements, which we still use, etc., things grown familiar through use. This isn’t limited to old things, though. I’m drawn to my computer keyboard in the same way that I am to my old Royal typewriter. And there are some things that put me off, such as cell phones, which I have never owned and which feel awkward in my hand. In the end, we like what we like, and the reasons for the attraction run deep, and are linked through memory. Great entry!

  5. the photos here are fantastic . all then .
    i do love my old Cannon and never will get rid of "her" .
    my digital camera is mo bureaucratic . is more for work of registering and posting easily . But i have used for creations too.

    about thecnonoly ... i must to admit that came late to this side of the live very late ... but it only because i didn't have money for the most basic things.
    i remember late 80's and ealy 90... tilll 1997, i had fanzines of rock'n'roll and litarature .

    ohh... all the trouble and money i had to spent for sending this to many countrys .
    i started to hate it and gaveup as in 1997 i had to pay more important bills .
    I love the way the new machines make it easier to express yourself and get in contact with people .
    i am still painting the same way painting has been done for the last centures.... but i love to be on a computer .
    i hate thecnology in general and do everythuing to avoid . i don't hace a single watch , car , cell phone , and lots of machines in general . my computer is fron the 20th centure with few new pieces.
    this is a good way to live . i would love to have a digital Cannon with a gigantic obgetive too.
    ohh... i just remembered when i got into the art market . it was before the digital camera ... do you have any idea of how much money i had to spend for revealing photos and doing a portifolio... i had to send portifolios every week for more than 3 years . i don't know how i survived . hahah!1
    now i send an email , more complete, with better images and for free.
    i love this . hahah!!

    this post is great .
    i have a natural aversion for machines. but i think that this time the devil got me.

  6. Gabriella,
    I agree technology is going pretty fast..
    A very good post (as always) from you,
    my dear!
    I can read a kind of wistfulness or
    I take off my hat,

  7. Gabriella, what a beautiful post. I enjoyed every line of it. Thank you for bringing a smile to my face.

  8. Great point of view, Gabriella! I love your free way to express.
    I like to learn about everything, be old or new, since it can be useful. But nothing is like our old film machines, or listen to our LPs, or write with our own hands to a friend.
    What i really sorry about it is that everything becomes a business. If it´s old is an antique luxury object, if it´s new is modern and eletist. And sometimes is difficult ignore all that in our daily moments.
    But we have to be careful, cause this world they have made for us has a tendency to make people depressive and crazy....and i wouldn´t like to give them pleasure.
    Let´s work for it!!!

  9. I send the afternoon in the studio and come home to so many wonderful comments to answer! I had a feeling this post would touch some of you out there!

    Wong - I'm glad to hear you cherish your old objects too! They have so much more history and character! Thanks for stopping by.

    Patti - I am getting on board this train very late and reluctantly also - but I do have to begrudgingly admit the advantages. My only worry is that there is a difference between us old Luddites learning things by hand first and then making use of the necessary and convenient tools at our disposal, and the youth of today who jump right to the "shortcuts" and lose something perhaps in the ability to think and make things...

    Ciao Laura! I think I just said what you were saying - that technology is nothing without creativity and a passion to many good thoughts here! Thanks for your comment...

    William - I knew I'd hear from you on this one! I got my first cell phone only two years ago and was apparently wrong thinking I was the last holdout! It was necessary because I was traveling a lot and there are no longer non-cellular ways of communicating on the road that are reliable and don't cost a fortune...but my cell mostly sits in places hidden and neglected, silently losing its battery charge...your mention of cooking implements made me smile! I still have an old brass dough cutter with a serrated wheel, at least 100 years old, from my great grandmother the baker! Such objects possess great power for us, yes.

    Caio! What a great comment! We are the same, you and I - we serve the devil of technology when it suits our needs, but that doesn't mean we always like it! Doing things by hand, the way they have been done for centuries, is such a joyful thing and connects us with the whole history of creative souls, and with all of humanity from its origins onward...

    Monika - ah, you always read my heart behind the words, my dear! There is definitely a wistfulness...I may have made my peace with modern times - what choice is there? But I think in my soul I am really from another century! I think you are too...

    Luis - thank you for visiting me! I am very glad my post made you smile.

    And last, but certainly not least - my dear Crissant! I share with you the desire to learn and absorb everything, but reserve the right to prefer the old ways of doing things! Handwritten one does that anymore! Oh the letters I used to write, pages and pages on special paper! I do miss the feeling of holding papers in hand that someone has touched and spent time with...many thanks for your comment, my dear, so glad you enjoy my words, even if they are on the computer screen!

  10. Gabriella....

    I'm so glad that you started off by giving the definition of luddite because I honestly didn't know what the heck it
    Well.... I must say that I love the sound an old typewriter makes and I much rather preferred my 35mm camera to my I am adapting however and must say that I have a love affair with my Mac. : P
    Your post and pics are so awesome. I love coming here!! xoxo

  11. Hi Manon! One more bit of irony - I had to Google the definition just to make sure I had it right, and actually, I thought it was just a movement of people resistant to mechanization in general, no idea they were actually textile workers destroying machines because they thought their livelihood was at risk! So, good I checked! I'm glad you love coming to my site, ditto for me and yours - I'm off to visit you right now!

  12. this post made me smile many times, remembering the agony of not using my pentax 35mm film camera, and learning all this new digital stuff.

    and remembering trying to move the computer from one room to another to get some quiet assignment time away from the kids during my study. a mammoth task. I had forgotten all this.

    technology is fast, and it continues to baffle me with most of what it can do. however, like you, I still like the pencil and paper for note taking.

    a wonderful post yet again gillian. thanks.


  13. Hi T - glad this post made you smile - seems there are a lot of us out there making our peace with technology while secretly missing the old days! What will be next I wonder? We'll be fine, as long as they still make pencils and paper, which really haven't changed much in several hundred years, so what does that say? Best to you and enjoy your week!

  14. I love the muted tones in your black and whites. It really has the atmosphere of a rainy day. Carla

  15. I appreciate the comment, Carla! I love when the conditions and the moment all come together and not only look good but convey the mood of the scene too! Thanks for visiting.