I was returning to India after a seventeen-year hiatus, and my husband suggested I take a digital camera. He gave me his. The first time I returned I took a film camera. The DSLR would be much easier—no film to load and unload throughout the day, not to mention the added cost to develop and weight in my luggage.
One of my favorite side ventures is photography, something that I first tried as an eight-year-old and then again as a college student, but didn’t pick up again until my forties. Since then I’ve had two solo shows, exhibited in juried shows, and sold a few images. But the camera I use has its own story.
Michael began working in photography in college, and immediately showed an aptitude for all things photographic. He began with a Pentax and remained loyal to the brand for practical as well as technical reasons. Every Pentax lens is interchangeable on a Pentax body, and over the years he accumulated lots of lenses. Before my trip he’d been having trouble with his current DSLR, and took it to a specialist, at Hunt’s. The two men along with a technician inspected, tested, retried, retested, opened, fiddled, and couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t register an image. The camera simply didn’t work. He didn’t buy it from Hunt’s, but the man offered him something reasonable for it. Instead, Michael brought it home and told me of the very disappointing visit. This is where it gets weird.
He came in and told me the whole story of his visit to Hunt’s, and his discussion with the owner, whom he’d worked with before and trusted. I picked up the camera, sighted it, and snapped the shutter. The image appeared and looked fine to me.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “It looks okay.”
Michael looked at the image, at me holding the camera out to him, at the image, at me. He agreed it did look okay. I’ll never forget the look on his face, though I didn’t understand why his expression was so odd.
“Why don’t you take it with you to India, along with the other one.” He was referring to a small pocket digital Pentax I’d given him a few years ago that he didn’t use.
I did, and took tons of photographs. The camera was the most reliable tool I’ve ever worked with. It always worked for me. I never had any trouble with it. It never worked for him again, no matter what he did. I use it still, though I now have access to his other, more advanced cameras and lenses.
At the time I said the problem with the camera was a matter of electricity. I had less in my hands, or body, than he had. My touch didn’t interfere with the operation of the camera. Maybe I have more than he has and that helps the camera work. I have no idea. But it’s one of those odd incidents in life that reminds me of how little we know about how the physical world around us operates.
And it perhaps explains why some of us love our tools, as though they are a part of our body, an extension of our imaginative selves as we manipulate the physical world to fit our vision. Writers do it with paper and pen, or computer and printer; carpenters with hammers and chisels and wood; photographers with camera and lenses and paper and ink. It doesn’t matter what you use; the result is the same—a world remade according to the singular vision of one particular person, a lens into another mind and its world.