Photos aren’t special like they were when you only got one or two in a lifetime. Creepy, frowning ghost faces giving off the dusty impression that the past was a total drag. It probably was. Or maybe dental care was just bad. No toothy grins that side of 1950.
Those photos are treasures when they’re my kin. It’s fun to peer into them and find my jawline or my cousin Steve’s freakish monkey ears on some long-dead relative. But if they’re not my people, they’re a joke. Unloved and 10 for a dollar at a yard sale or collecting grease on the wall of a Cracker Barrel.
I believe that cameras, more often than not, just mess everything up.
I came to this belief on a recent trip to Glacier National Park with three cameras and three friends who were attached to said cameras. For anyone who’s been to Montana, you know. Photos will never come close. There are pictures of the bald eagles that soared overhead, but those pictures don’t capture the catch in my breath or the uncharacteristic feeling that we really are safe in the hands of some sort of loving deity.
I’d rather just let beauty sink into my bones or brain of wherever it is that is closest to my me. Photos don’t help when my skin is stress-crawling and I’m angry or sad. But those little bits of beauty will; absorbed through my skin and stored in me like a cosmic Frigidaire, waiting for when I need a beauty chill in a world gone ballistic.
Cameras make it impossible for you to exist in that moment. They’re supposed to help you capture it, but as soon as you start framing, you’re in a different sort of relationship: artist, canvass and all the frustrations that come with that on both sides.
It amounts to taking the happiness pulse. Like, hey! Look! That’s wonderful or I’m happy to be here with you or whatever and then the camera appears. Then it becomes hold it! Smile like you were before the camera. Be you in this setting so I can hold you forever in 4 by 6 or 5 by 7, glossy or matte.
It’s worse now with digital. Now it’s “click – let me see”, all in one fluid breath. My three year old nephew even knows this routine. With adults, this “let me see” is inevitably followed by, Oh no! My forehead’s greasy and my eyes are closed. Do it again, like before only more perfect, more lovely, more me. Capture me the best I can be with my outside all shinny and my teeth in a row. No! That’s not good either. Do I look like that? Do it again. I’ll stand straight this time.
Then the smile freezes, eyes widen, angles are sought. This is forever after all, and you don’t want a neck roll or squinty eyes. This is you, imprinted for whoever the hell in the future wants to look at you. You don’t want to be a joke photo at a Cracker Barrel, even if it is a hundred years away.
And before you know it, unhappy faces huddle over cameras in packs at scenic overlooks and in all the parking lots at all the natural and unnatural wonders of the world. And only once in a while does someone look up and say, “oh.”
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