I lost my camera.
It happened maybe two years ago, around the time my house was broken into… twice, even, in less than 3 months (bloody South Auckland street kids).
The thing is, I didn’t even notice it was gone until a few weeks later. Or maybe I did notice, but that memory was filed away somewhere in my subconscious, along with other tragedies in my life that I refuse to willingly acknowledge.
Even today I’m clinging to the hope that my camera will show up again somewhere – at the back of the hot water cupboard? Buried under the old monitors, broken desks and moldy newspapers piled high in the garage? Or maybe a cousin will turn up to my house one day and apologize for not getting my camera back to me after borrowing it a year and a half ago – but here it is, thanks, in perfect working order.
I can’t even remember the make of it. Nikon I think. Or Cannon. All I know is that it had a manual /auto adjust zoom lens, the flash still worked, never mind that its cover looked burnt, and it required film that cost around $13 each, or less than $30 for a triple pack.
Over the years that I’d had this camera, I must have spent thousands of dollars developing film. Thankfully, only a small portion of that came out of my own pocket. People actually paid me to take photos – mostly friends and friends of friends who were getting married and didn’t want to fork out ridiculous amounts for a real photographer.
I was the girl with the camera at everybody’s wedding in those days, and sometimes it was magic – perfect timing, great shots, lots of frame-worthy images. Other times I’d have to walk away from a job sighing, ah well. You get what you pay for… because while I could take a pretty picture, my photography was hardly ‘professional’.
I always meant to become professional, to take a class and really master the art form. I still fantasize about traipsing the globe in cargo pants, camera bag over my shoulder, chasing the headlines to capture that one image that mesmerizes the world. Or making my name in surf photography, bobbing in the waves waiting patiently for sun, tube, spray and board to cosmically align for my perfect shot.
I think I’d enjoy the portraits most. I’d photograph famous people and my lens would magnify beautiful flaws. I’d photograph vagrants and coax nobility into their images. In my amazing studio, I’d have crazy sets and costumes for my whimsical moods and spreads for Rolling Stones magazine. But another corner of the room would feature only an armchair propped near a window for the photos of people I love.
When I lost my camera, though, my drive for the bohemian lifestyle of a full-time photographer lost its momentum. The camera never really belonged to me anyway.
It was my dad who bought it. It took him almost a year and maybe 25 installments to pay it off – $50 here, $40 there to his Indian mate who owned a photography shop down the road from us. Dad’s brothers are gadget-geeks, and it’s a family thing of theirs to own a nice camera. My dad wasn’t going to skimp on quality, no matter how much it cost.
That camera has been all over Auckland. My dad used it to make extra cash photographing church and community functions. It always annoyed me to see him running around after strangers like a butler, just to capture their egos and memories for them, so I began borrowing the camera from him and got good enough to take over his wedding gigs. I always told him I did it because his photos sucked – mine were better. He never argued with that.
I caught the ‘shutter-bug’. I loved how reality could either be enhanced or obscured in the hands of a photographer, and became addicted to the control I had behind the lens. Soon, it was my dad who had to borrow the camera from me when he needed it, because when I wasn’t taking photos for money, I was volunteering my services to friends and family members for practice.
I observed a few years worth of family life through that camera. I saw each of my brothers leave the country and caught love on people’s faces as they said their goodbyes. I saw the subtle crack of a smile one time on my grandfather’s usually angry mug. Another time, I watched my mother laugh so hard she was crying, and I could imagine what she must have looked like as a school girl.
And then my eldest cousin – father of 4 young-adults – died suddenly of a heart attack, and at his funeral, I captured a look of dread, deep sorrow and anxiety, in my own father’s eyes… as if he knew something I could have never willed myself to imagine at the time.
My dad didn’t wake up from the triple bypass surgery he had less than a month later.
I continued to take photos with his camera, except now I didn’t have to make sure it was available before I booked a gig. I started calling it ‘my’ camera and even when it became way un-cool to still be using film, I showed up to the functions anyway and took my place amongst the digital-wielding professionals in the areas marked for media.
My enthusiasm for photography began to wane, however, and I committed to fewer and fewer jobs. I’m not sure what happened – life, I guess. I suddenly felt the need to find steadier work, to build a foundation,think about the future and save some money.
Soon my camera only saw the light of day at occasional family functions, and even then, it didn’t really matter to me anymore that I wasn’t always the one taking the photos.
Then one day the batteries died out and I didn’t bother to replace them. Instead, I retired my camera to the back of a filing cabinet drawer where it stayed out of sight and pretty much out of mind until I finally realized that it was gone.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about who I was back when I freely entertained dreams of contributing to art and humanity in a significant way. I’ve never been the girl who could truly be happy with a nine-to-five, BBQ on the weekend kind of life, and I’ve been missing the luxury of grabbing my once-was-priceless camera and going for days-long, exploratory drives around town.
But I also know that I’m a different person now. I’ve been through a lot and grown up a bit in the last couple years, and I’m curious to see how those changes would reflect in my photos today.
It’s not going to be the same, I know, but I think it’s time to let my old camera go already and finally invest in a new one.
Maybe even one of those new-fangled digitalized ones all the kids are wearing these days…
I first wrote this on the 12th of August 2008.
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