Friday, March 9, 2012

I am a Camera

I first heard this phrase back in the day when a camera was still something exotic, used by professionals and occasionally at family picnics by somebody's mother with a Brownie camera , her back to the sun as children stood in front of her blindly saying cheese upon command. I began to look at the things around me as though I was going to take a snapshot; I still do.

When I use an actual camera, I feel as though I own the image. When I am the camera, the image owns me until I can put it into words. Somehow the image demands that I do that and it haunts me until I do. Explaining or describing a photograph isn't--for me--the same thing at all.

When I first began to read travel writing, much of it annoyed me, and still does. Writers who talk about the unfamiliar within the context of what's familiar to them are wasting my time. I want to know what is seen, heard, smelled, on a Hoboken street or a road in Laos. I really don't care how it makes the writer remember her mother or her boyfriend or her favorite dress when she was twelve. I want that writer to be a camera.

Better yet, I want the writer to live in the place that's being described, if only for a few days. Then the camera isn't taking a postcard shot; it records routines and behavior and the pace of a languid afternoon as the sun grows paler.

We are all cameras, and once we realize that, we become travelers even in our home towns, exploring and selecting and recording images that refuse to go away until we can finally develop them, in a conversation, in a blog, in a book. As Leonard Cohen said in Beautiful Losers, "God is alive. Magic is afoot."


Dr. Will said...

Yes, certainly, make the familiar strange, but...The phrase reminds me of the movie (Laurence Harvey) based on the play (Julie Harris) based on Isherwood's Berlin Stories. Which paved the way for Liza in Cabaret. May we all be scenes for each other's camera.

Janet Brown said...

I've yet to see the movie--soon.