Found my old camera under the chest of drawers the other day. For ages I’d thought it was broken, but it whirred into life like a little trooper when I clicked it to ‘on’. Maybe it just needed a five year snooze. Maybe I got it fixed then forgot about it. Maybe my loyalties switched from the big clunky lens to the convenient and spontaneous joys of the iphone. But there it was, in working order. “Hullo old friend”, I squinted at it.
I got it about seven years ago when I had a fancy to ‘get into photography’. It’s a good one. Big and commanding. I wanted to do it properly – learn the science and technology and craft of it all, but like a lot of things I’d like to give my time to, I didn’t. I took thousands of snaps on it, never really mastering all the funny settings or light controls or the theory behind it all. Really, I just wanted to click and see beautiful interesting things captured forever. Some pictures turned out alright in the way a good camera can occasionally make it look like you’re the one with a good eye, rather than the monkey that presses a finger on all that intricate wonder flickering inside that little box. But most were mundane and averagely shot.
The reason a little bell in my head had chimed me to look for it was because I had to try and get ‘the right shot’ for my play poster. I sort of knew what I wanted, but because the posters are going to be blown up big for the Edinburgh streets I couldn’t rely on a phone to cut the mustard.
I spent a morning in the garden, snapping away, accumulating hundreds of shots that I knew wouldn’t be quite right, but before I could see any of them properly I had to order a little lead so that I could plug the camera into my mac. I waited a couple of days. The lead arrived. It was then another day or so until I used it, pausing rather selfishly to have my birthday. Then I plugged it in.
Hundreds and hundreds of pictures flooded the screen. What a dense universe a memory card is. A matchbox sized storage facility. Keeper of memories, portal to the past.
There was a little forgotten segment of my life, laid out like glossy coloured pages. Hundreds and hundreds of bad, sad, accidentally good, funny, blurry pictures.
Parties. Christmas. Dinners. Pubs. Houses. Loved ones laughing, looking younger. My nephew, now too big to pick up, hiding in the tiny confines of a gramophone record cupboard. My niece as a newborn, eyes not yet fully open. Someone who is not in my life anymore, his face something I barely remember as anything that once touched mine, making me shudder. That skin bristle of your old life rubbing itself against your new one. That gladness that it’s not your life anymore.
That trite old saying is right; a picture speaks a thousand words. It’s trite because it’s right.
Except a bad writer couldn’t speak the volumes of one good picture in a million words.
A passable writer could maybe do something in a few thousand words.
A good writer could strike you like a bell with a hundred.
A brilliant writer could grab your heart with fifty.
A genius with five.
But a picture is a picture. It needs no words.
Perhaps it is the break you need when your whole life revolves around writing. Maybe I’ll keep it within easy reach for the next five years. Maybe it will do a better job at capturing nice things in pixels than I ever could in words. Maybe I’ll try both.
I tried my hand at photography when I was sixteen. I got no further than you did! This was way before memory cards so my films were developed at the chemist and many of my ‘accidentally good ones’ are pasted into an ancient photo album. Whenever I look at them, they take me to a place that isn’t quite the past and isn’t quite the now – you know? If I weren’t a (supposed) writer, I’d want to be a visual artist.