IN CAMERA

Tools shape how we see the world, so long as the tools themselves don't become the reason we want to see the world in the first place.

Tools shape how we see the world, so long as the tools themselves don't become the reason we want to see the world in the first place.

Movies are immensely technical enterprises. Even low cost, home-made flicks from aspiring high school and college students have long since become amalgams of real-world images coupled with digital manipulations, imaginings, modifications, and investments.

The term "in camera" generally refers to visuals captured as live action, as physical events taking place either in front of the lens, or as light passes through the lens--a function of light and its inevitable refraction. These are not necessarily depictions of reality, per se. Even in documentaries there's nothing photographic that shows real, genuine life. Photographic images are abstractions of life--always--and it's through the trust we place in visual storytellers that those abstractions come to mean anything relevant. Where storytellers place their cameras and what images come through their apertures is almost always the first element available for our review.

This all leads me to a recurring epiphany. It happens to me time and time again, and it startles me with dawning awareness every time. It's this: when I'm walking with a camera around my neck I see the world differently.

The world doesn't change. I change. The camera forces me to make wise choices about how to spend precious, fleeting moments of life that will never return again. A camera demands contextualization, and thus definitions among relationships. It pushes me to think critically, which demands that I think clearly. It slows time and thus invests even ordinary, transient moments with gravity and meaning. It forces me to get closer even if I'm shooting something on a distant horizon. Rather than clicking family snapshots trying to fit in the house, the kids, the wedding-festooned SUV in the driveway, the dog, and the sunset, a camera teaches you to choose. Find a subject, make a choice, make a photograph.

Do it well and move the world.

When I put down my camera in favor of my word processor or notebook I experience the same thing. Responsibility persists, even when I'm working with tools for recording words instead of light. With the risk of spending precious moments writing words that tip readers into drowsy distraction, I find myself composing phrases and sentences with care. Blogs, books, poems, screenplays: I fear writing a clumsy grocery note lest some future archaeologist find my scribblings in a mound of midden and conclude we were once a dull, plodding culture.

On and on it goes. It's a rabbit hole. It's the Red Pill. It's endless.

The thing about working with tools like cameras or computers is that they can simultaneously cultivate two things. The first should be obvious. Tools let you make stuff that otherwise might not come to life. That's the lesser of the two in my mind. Here's the biggie: tools can teach you to see, to hear, to think. If you care about what you see through the camera viewfinder, for example, and spend enough time looking into one, you might begin seeing the world differently even without the device in front of your nose. The camera teaches you how to see, but the images you can create with a camera can teach you how to live.

--MS

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