Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Through the Lens and Under the Scope

Mixed media has infiltrated our lives for over one hundred years in various forms. Whether it is newspaper, movies, photographs, internet or the almost forgotten realm of radio, media is a constant source of our daily lives. Almost everyone I know has a cell phone that takes pictures and videos that can instantly upload the information to the blue nowhere. All the while, in the corners of their houses sit video cameras, 35 mm cameras and digital cameras collecting dust. Newspapers accumulate in fire pits still housed in their weather protective plastic bags, forgotten and rotting slowly away to nothing. Books sit on shelves while their owners sit on couches with modern e-readers skimming through the latest best seller. In coffee shops around the world baskets which used to house loaner books have now been replaced by trash cans while the patrons open their laptops and surf the news websites for the latest disaster pictures which have been uploaded to the site not by paid professionals but by armatures who refused to leave the disaster zone under mandatory evacuation orders.

Am I guilty of this? Yes, I am to a certain extent.

I’ve been a videographer, photographer and to a certain extent a biographer over the years. Just like you and your friends have. But recently, well, as of a few years ago, I’ve slowly stopped photographing a lot of what goes on in my life. Instead I try to live in the moment and absorb what I am experiencing without having the barrier of a lens in front of me. An intentional immersion into what I am experiencing and the people with whom I am sharing the moment with. My senses got into automatic overload at my command, flooding me with more information then my brain can handle. I love it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still take photos and I still upload them to my computer and sometimes to my facebook, twitter and google+ page but not like I used to. I try, and this is tricky, I really try to NOT record in any format what it is I am experiencing so that later, when I am alone on my porch, at my desk or even driving to work I can drag those memories kicking and screaming into my consciousness. Yes, sometimes these memories carry embarrassment, regret, the woulda's the shoulda's the coulda's but most of the time they carry smiles, laughter and a warmth that starts as a spark in my soul and passes through the rest of my body like a wildfire in a drought ridden forrest .

I can’t say as I’ve ever felt a true need to photograph my life in its entirety or even partially. I do remember when I purchased my first camera, it was a Cannon 35 mm and cost me $200.00 in the ships store onboard the USS Austin. I took a lot of pictures of foreign ports, sites and shipmates with that camera. I even trusted the development of the photos to the vendors in whatever port my ship happened to be in. It was an odd way of doing business, what a sailor or marine would do is go up to an authorized vendor, fill out a form with all pertinent information on it and give the film, form and money to the vendor. Then, when the ship hit the next port, your photos would be waiting for you there. I never really understood how this system worked but it did and everyone was cool with it. I am sure now, looking back, we broke all sorts of security protocols and I am also sure there is no system like this in place today.

When I gaze back in my history at the times when I was looking through the lens of my camera I have to admit, I was not fully living in the moment. I was concentrating more on the photograph and the subject of the photograph I was about to take. I was never fully “in the moment." My mind was unable to absorb the sounds, smells, chaos and order of daily life simply because I was concentrating on a particular feature through the microscopic lens of my camera. I missed stuff and I don’t know what it is that I missed. There are gaps in my memories because of these events. Words not remembered, laughter not heard, actions not observed, simply because I was living my moment in a plastic, metal and glass box.

Do I regret those lost moments? No, I mourn them but as a consolation I have photos to help remind me of what I thought was important then. Those help.

Where is this leading? Good question. I suppose in the name of complete exposure I should let you know that while over the past few years I have brought a camera with me to certain events, I never even thought about pulling it out and recording the moments of history in which I am an active observer and sometimes participant in. Instead I find myself sitting back and enjoying life as it comes to me. Just being a casual observer, and when I do find myself in the midst of the fracas and fray we call life, someone usually ends up recording me. This is a new experience, normally when I am involved in something I am the recorder not a contributor. All of which is a new experience for me, I’ve tried to not have photos taken of me and have attempted to maintain a low profile but now I am not so sure this was a course of action I should have pursued but it is one that has served me well in my past. It is also something I will endeavor to continue.

I’m not a fan of being in front of cameras, I’m more comfortable behind them, but when a friend wants their photo taken with me I gladly oblige. When a person wants to talk to me, I make a concerted effort to meet them on common verbal ground. Being under the scope of interest is fascinating and I’ve experienced it simply due to my fortunate career at the museum. And, while talking about trains, railroad history and toys is pleasurable it has taught me to actually live in the moment with the people I am with and I know will have me enjoying its memories for years to come.

Have a great week.

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