Ode To A Dead Memento
Last summer, my mom told me that she wasn’t using her camera anymore and that they’d switched to my little brother’s digital camera. I told her she ought to send it to me so I could use it.
This camera is as old as me. It’s been pointed at and around my face all my life. Its instruction booklet is lost, as is its lens cap. It’s an old SLR. One lens, lever for the film to wind, overused auto setting. Worn velvet case; worn and familiar strap. It arrived safely in the mail and came with an illustrated, lined page of notes from my mother’s memory.
It made me want to learn more about it, to use it to its full potential. I dreamed of taking a photography class and learning how to develop the film, of how to use the instrument to create beautiful images. To use it as a tool to create art.
I took pictures of the fall leaves from my new apartment window, and took this tool to Bob. Bob is my grandpa, but he didn’t know how to use it. I was disappointed; he used something like this during his prime grandfatherhood years; he was often the one behind the camera. But he just knew how to point, focus and click, just like my mom. He recommended that I take it to Just’In’s grandpa.
Sure enough, that guy knew something. He had saved the instruction booklet to his old camera, even though he didn’t have the camera anymore. He taught me what he knew about F-stop and light exposure and I took notes on more lined paper. He also had a hand-held light meter that he wasn’t using, so I took it out of his basement full of stuff and tucked it in my red-and-white striped hat box that held my camera.
I took pictures of the snow from the same window. And then when the meter said I’d taken 24 pictures, I wound the roll… and the lever got stuck. So I took it into my local camera shop–a different branch than the one I worked at earlier– and the camera salesman told me that there wasn’t a roll of film in there in the first place.
I groaned good-naturedly, then bought a roll of film from them. Mom had told me that the camera had trouble catching and loading film, so I had the guys at the camera shop help me. Then I took it home and tucked it away in my hat box.
I just took it out last week when feeling inspired by the fall leaves again. Perfect lighting, perfect shade of yellow, perfect shadows. I have a good eye even if I don’t have technical knowledge about how it works. But as I turned to the apartment and laid on my back to get a funny shot that I’ve been dreaming of for a year, and just as I clicked the shutter for this shot, the button went down but it didn’t go back up. The lens went dark but it didn’t get light again. I pushed the button again, shook the camera lightly, but nothing good happened. So I put my shoes on, slung the familiar weight around my neck, and trekked in the chilly sunset to my local camera shop.
Sure enough, the shutter was stuck open. After a trip to the darkroom, the guys determined that the mirror was stuck open and wouldn’t close all the way. It was worn to a state of unrepair. OMG parts can’t be ordered anymore. So, ever the salesman, the owner of the shop pulls out a new camera. It had funny flaps on the end of the lens that stick out. This camera was meant to fly. It’s the digital equivalent of the SLR that hung around my neck. It’s still got the viewhole and the lens that sticks out. It has a familiar weight to it, it’s on clearance, and all the other stores are sending this guy all their cameras like this one. Or like this one.
I don’t remember exactly which one it was. I took no notes because it’s a dream, not a shopping reality. I don’t have the money, my best friend doesn’t have the money, and we have a digital that works just fine. Eventually, though, I’d like to have my own camera on trips. I want this one. I’ll take pictures of my kids as they see the world while Just’In takes shots of the landscape and posed pictures of us all grouped together in front of something. Profile shots. Shots of action. And eventually, I’ll take a photography class to learn how to expose the pictures to the right kind of light.
Today, I went to pick up the eight exposures that I managed to catch with the camera before it broke. The film was blank; I caught zero exposures while I had the camera. It had trouble catching the film to the bitter end. Meanwhile, anyone interested in some camera parts? The eBay auction will be up in a few days; comment if you want to see pictures of a machine that brings back memories to at least one set of hands.