I AM A CAMERA

I don’t remember a time that my father did not have a camera in his hands. He was always taking photographs and making home movies. As a little girl, I was told “smile, Jane” and I looked at my dad and his camera and smiled. The home movies show me as a baby in the crib and being aware of the camera. As there was no sound, I can imagine my mother or father talking to me, trying to get my attention. So there I was, in my crib, smiling and chewing on the wooden rails of the crib.

One of my favorite moments caught on film was me sitting on a potty chair and I am guessing it was right before bedtime. I am obviously sleepy and I am trying very hard to stay awake. I am sitting on this chair, naked and frankly, I look drunk. Trying to hold up my head and smile, resting my chin in my hand and my head slips down and then I sit straight up and smile for my dad again. It was not strange to have so many parts of my life recorded, this is what my dad did and as I aged, it became a routine.

The opening of gifts at Christmas were interrupted by having to show the gifts that my sister and I got to the camera. Now I can see what a great record it was of the stuff we got and it sure is a trip down memory lane. When it was my dad’s turn to open his gifts, my mother held the camera and it was clear she was not gifted in this area. Many times it looked like my dad was on a ship as the camera went all over the place as my dad was sitting still. Later on, I was given the camera and filmed my dad, and I had a steadier hand than my mother but no one was as good as my dad.

I don’t think everyone was comfortable being in front of the camera. In the 1960’s not every family had a movie camera, my dad kind of stood out for having one and using it as much as he did. If you look back at the movies and even the photographs, you see how stiff people were. They were really not so sure what they were supposed to do in front of the camera. Many times, people just stood still and would have to be encouraged to actually move. But I remember wonderful moments of naturalness that were caught on film and those are the ones that make you laugh and maybe just smile.

My dad’s brother Russell and his family came for a visit to California. They had never seen the ocean before (they were from Washington) and my dad stood back on the beach and just filmed them approaching the water. My uncle Russ rolled up his pants (he would not wear shorts) and just watched the water roll in, but he would not move. My cousins and my aunt Harriett would walk towards the water and the minute it came towards them, they all ran. They ran back and forth and screamed the whole time. My mother tried to encourage them to not be afraid, but I don’t think they were convinced to embrace the ocean.

And then there was Christmas, my sister and I in our pajamas sitting on the floor and waiting to pounce on our gifts. I remember all of those films, but the one that comes to me right away was the year my sister Karen, who was 13, got a sewing machine. If you know me by now, you know that this is not a gift that I would ever want, but Karen had this idea that she could make her clothes. When she unwrapped the box, she leaped up and did a dance of pure joy. She could not sit down as she went all over the place dancing with happiness and my father caught it all. These are the moments that you cannot plan or control and even after all these years, they can still make you happy.

This subject has been on my mind because the world is changing so fast and sometimes I feel like such a dinosaur. You cannot go anywhere and not see people taking pictures with their phones and even making mini movies. It is just no big deal to be able to record an experience right as it is happening. And why wouldn’t you if you had the chance? But the new trend is the making of photographs of yourself. It was recently announced that in The Netherlands that the word of the year is SELFIE. It was chosen by 2200 people who voted in the Van Dale (dictionary) online poll, with SELFIE taking 32% of the vote.

You do not need anyone to take your photograph anymore. You can do it yourself. It is not like the old days when Karen would call out to my dad to bring his camera as she was going to do a handstand. Everything is like instant pudding. People do not need to put film in a camera and they don’t have to be upset if they forgot their camera, as they now have a phone that does everything. So that means there are more images out there, more photographs of your friends and family, and certainly there are more images of YOU. You only need a long arm and a cell phone to take a picture of yourself.

We could go back and forth about the pros and cons of all of these changes. But there is a part of me that gets sentimental for the old days. When I look at a home movie or a black and white photograph, I know that my dad took it. I know that my mom was standing nearby talking to me. They were there with me, in that very moment, and it is a lovely thought. There are hundreds and hundreds of photographs of my sister and I am so grateful for them. It is our scrap book, our timeline, our diary of who we were and new memories are being created with new gizmos. Now, people can share an instant photograph of their dinner or of their baby’s first breath. Life just becomes one more episode from The Jetsons, doesn’t it? The quality of the technology is impressive and those instant films have shown us images that we may not have ever seen.

The reality is that technology has broadened our imaginations and opportunities. I wonder if my dad were still alive, if he would use his phone to record his life and I think he would love the new gadgets. He would be the first to say that things are less complicated when it comes to making a film. There is no doubt that there are tremendous benefits and conveniences to using the cell phone. But it still seems odd to me the amount of selfies being taken. When did we start having this need to photograph our own image?  Maybe it was always there….

I think that I look back with some nostalgia to the old days because my family was not really that happy. Our parents were not happy with each other, but the photos and films told another story. We could look back at our lives and find some kind of connection.

The very first movie that I made an appearance in was when I was three days old. My mother was 22 years old, a beautiful English woman, who was giving her baby her first bath. My dad, a new father himself, was filming this historic moment. And I wonder about what was being said in this scene…but this was the start of my dad recording the events of the family, now there were three of us to film. Years later, when our family would watch this movie, my sister would say “hey, how come you didn’t film me taking a first bath or how come I am not in as many movies as Jane?” How many times did the second child ask this kind of question? Not sure what was better, the actual filming or eating popcorn with your family and having a home movie night. Dad would set up the projector, put up the screen, and we would add our own dialogue and laugh a lot. Now a family films themselves having a snowball fight and can immediately see what they did just a few minutes before. It is really amazing how far we have come. All I am saying is that sometimes what you see in a photograph or in a film, is not the whole story. Sometimes the story behind the camera is just as interesting.

Recommended reading: THE SONGS OF WILLOW FROST by Jamie Ford. I was eager to read this novel, I loved Ford’s first novel, ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET. Wonderful story.

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Comments

  • krunn7  On December 22, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    You have made some insightful observations. I also had a father who took a lot of pictures. We basically were a happy family but I hated having my picture taken so I often can remember the negative thoughts in my head when one was taken of me. I also notice with the digital photos that the surroundings actually look better than in real life.

  • Jean Langley  On December 23, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Did you or your sister keep the movies? Were they Super 8? My uncle was the photographer in our family and I think a few years ago he may have converted them. So many of those old Super 8s have been lost.

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