Cameras

     Cameras are all over these days, ubiquitous, to use one of my favorite words.
     Already throughout England and in much of the U.S., automatic cameras record your public movements, on the sidewalk, entering a store or a bank or walking through the lobby of a hotel.
     In war, they are the electronic eyes of the drones that allow them to send a hellfire missile down on a Muslim fundamentalist, like hell fire.
     At the other extreme of human activity, going out and drinking, any evening out in town will produce — usually from the girls — a frequent flowering of cameras, from pockets and purses, and endless photos of themselves and their friends.
     The ubiquity of cameras has made the images they produce forgettable most of the time.
     Especially when they involve me. Because I have a reflex to close my eyes just as the flash is about to come. It is very hard to control. I force myself to keep my eyes open and thus look the opposite of casual, debonair and rakish. More like a person who would rather be anywhere else.
     I have that reflex because my father was a photographer by trade.
     And we the kids were often the human pieces in his mis-en-scene, walking over a bridge on a stormy day in Paris, in the middle of roundabout – amazing when you think about the man putting his family out there – with cars whizzing by, or family portraits for Christmas cards that inevitably involved industrial-strength flashes from two sides.
     But the images are memorable.
     And they both record and form the lore of our family. As I publish those images – and there are thousands – on our website, some of them come back to me. I remember seeing them growing up.
     Like a Mexican worker framed by a doorway. The camera is looking from inside a dark warehouse with harvested tequila cactus stacking up in the foreground while the worker is framed in the doorway against the intense sunlight outside.
     I had forgotten that photo as one that my dad printed in a large format and put up in his darkroom, one that he considered an artistic success, and it came back to me when we published it.
     Or one of me, proud as punch, holding up a huge Cabezone, a fish that looks prehistoric with an enormous scary head, that I had caught off a rock shelf with a handline. That trip to Santo Tomas in Baja also produced a series of images that I had never seen before.
     Like my uncle’s car, an early 1950s Chevrolet, in water up to the hood as we forded the Santa Tomas river on the way out the coast.
     Camping was something that my folks started doing in France after World War II and then continued with expeditions through California and Baja California.
     The trips were so much more robust exercises than the camping of today. No RV’s, no “hook-ups”, no painted parking spots. They involved canvas tents, fishing for dinner, cooking over a campfire of gathered wood and sleeping on the ground under the stars.
     But the times were also so much more innocent.
     I think of going back down the Pacific Coast of Baja, which is still and rough and primitive land of dirt roads and empty beaches. But camping would now include substantial risk in a deeply changed, violent and unstable land.
     With the death of my parents, I became, like anyone who goes through that inevitable experience, much more aware of the brief and fading nature of life. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.
     And it seems like so many lives are sweet in the living but, like a cell phone camera photo, soon forgotten. As the vivid nature of ongoing life overwhelms the shade of the past.
     The photos taken by my dad change that. They form a record of our family’s passage through a half-century when things changed an awful lot. A kind of unevenly timed, time-lapse photography. Where the images speed up at one point, all clumped together on a topic such as a tequila farm or a camping trip, and then are missing through long periods of everyday life.
     The camera had an impact. It created a record of a time past that resonates in the present.

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