In a slightly different form, this piece also ran on KQED FM’s Perspectivesseries on October 3, 2008
I’m not sure I’d want to turn back the clock on technology, but on a recent trip to the park with my three-year-old son I was moved with nostalgia when I saw an older gentleman taking photographs with an old-fashioned single-lens-reflex camera.
Jealous of his film, the photographer took his time, gazing through the viewfinder, adjusting his tripod and fussing with dials. This is something I remember well. It wasn’t that long ago that I took pride in my ability to shoot decent photos with a Pentax as old as I am—a camera that once traveled the world with me, bumping my hip as I walked along the Sea of Galilee, and braving the weather on Scotland’s Western Isles, where the rain was so severe that my boots were wet for a month, but my camera dried out just fine. My SLR came with me to Switzerland and Italy, and twice to China where it recorded the adoptions of my two daughters.
But parenthood requires many snapshots, and I have replaced my Pentax with a digital Panasonic with a Leica lens and lots of memory. It’s a good camera, and I’m happy not to be spending money on film and developing; but when I saw that photographer in the park I realized that I miss the way I used to see the world when I could take only as many photos as I could fit on a roll of film, when I needed to make every click of the shutter count. Back then, I paid closer attention to light and color and when I was shooting black and white I noticed contrast and texture. I tried to watch the edges of my viewfinder and to be patient.
Now I pay less attention. I take lots of pictures, confident that at least some of them will turn out, and if not, I can doctor them on my laptop.
Admittedly, there’s much to be said in defense of digital cameras—I won’t be giving mine away anytime soon—but over the weekend I purchased a roll of black and white film. I felt a familiar but forgotten excitement as I wound the film into the box and I went out to look at my neighborhood through the lenses of my dusty old camera.
I don’t yet know how the pictures came out—the film is still at the lab—but I know how I came out: like a man who has found his missing spectacles and is become reacquainted with the joy of sight.