Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Only a thousand words


I wake blinking the haze from my eyes, then realize it's not the fog of sleep but the vapour rising from the stream by which our train is passing. We are in Western Montana passing through a river valley, and the land around is a composition in green and white; fir-clad and snow-bound.

It truly is otherworldly beautiful. The train feels like it's gliding, supported by the mist. Sunlight lances through and through the branches of the christmas trees in their wedding finery, and sparkles off the icy sequins decorating the gossamer-ghosts of the trees with no leaves. The trees up on the ridge form mini-peaks of their own, capped in white and back-lit by the sun.

I scramble for my cell-phone camera, and then remember that there's no way I'm going to be able to capture any of this with that cheap-ass digital-zoom-only toy.

Which is all for the best, considering my long-held policy on not taking pictures myself (mostly stuck to, except when I lapse). It started off when, as a kid, I discovered that silver nitrate was the light-sensistive compound used. I knew that silver was expensive 'cos mom had laughed at me when I asked if our cutlery was silverware. Using the well-developed faculty of reason that set me apart from lower forms of life (especially the other kids who went to my school), I decided that the cost of silver was high because of shortages due to all the camera-trigger-happy people around me, and that I for one wanted no part of it.

Image reproduction techniques have advanced much since then, and so has my understanding of economics, and the scarcity of certain heavy metals in the earth's crust. However, I still resolutely refuse to carry a camera. (Cheap-ass digital-zoom-only camera phones don't count.) Let me try to explain why.

This current rationalization started with, of all things, a Reader's Digest snippet I'd read. (Yes, this is the same journal that insisted that Chinese doctors injected mercury into the brains of second children.) In it, the person was ranting about how, when he tried taking a photograph of a spectacular moment, he never really noticed the moment itself in all the scrambling to get the perfect picture. He bemoaned
progress in general, and photography in particular, for ruining the pace of life. He then tritely summed it up by saying that after all, a picture is only worth a thousand words. His article wasn't quite; I remember counting, and feeling disappointed at the opportunity he'd missed.

On the face of it, his argument is kinda specious. Fleeting moments are really hard for amateur photographers to capture, so that can't have been what he was cribbing about. And the sturdier, more stick-around-for-a-while kind of moments - well, surely you'd have enough time to point 'n click, revel in the beauty of the moment, and
suck a lollipop besides. If you've got your beady eye stuck in that peep-hole all the while the turtle tap-dances for you, well then, you're just plain greedy, and you got what's coming to you.

But on thinking a bit about it, I notice the difference in my behaviour when I'm a camera-carrier as opposed to when I'm camera-free. In the one case I'm constantly jockeying for position, analysing angles, lighting, distances and positioning. Photographs are unforgiving scross-sections of the space-time cone; they're either representative of your mental projections, or are not. In the other case, I amble without an agenda, and store in my own amiably fuzzy memory my own personal impressions of the event. And just like the fishermen's tales about the ones who got
away, another decided advantage is the power to exaggerate.

Not that I have any objection to other people taking photographs - more power to them, and if they forward them to me, how sweet of them.

And now, to end this under seven hundred word rant, here're some Seattle pictures.


Post a Comment

<< Home