Friday, August 26, 2005

The Eyed Eye

I returned from an errand yesterday to find a message on the answering machine from DK, aka bicycle man, informing me, aka camera woman, that there was a new stretch of the river path open on "The Island" that I should check out. The Island is actually a peninsula, a little Waltham neighborhood surrounded by a wide and serpentine section of the Charles River. I'd been intending all summer to revisit it, ostensibly to photograph water lilies which, on my accustomed stretch of the river, are maddeningly far offshore. For all its macro-and-resolution talents, the little point-and-shoot Powershot A80 simply cannot zoom. It's not wired for it and that's that.

Of course it's past water lilies' prime season, and, to boot, The Island's lilies, what's left of them, were also out of macro range. One whole bay, though, was a floating carpet of lily pads. I stood staring across it in the hot sun and suddenly saw the graceful, unmistakable silhouette of a great blue heron. It was maybe 100 yards away and tiny. I pointed the Powershot in its general direction and squinted over my glasses at the LCD -- where was the thing ? I looked up into a myopic, astigmatic blur of untidy green, pushed up my glasses, sighted it behind a stump big enough to appear on the screen, focused on the stump, crossed my fingers and shot. It's called presbyoptics.

It was easier to photograph what was at my feet -- a worn, involuted, dirty lily pad whose granular encrustation turned out in post-production to consist of dozens of tiny bugs.

I'd last been to the Island about a year ago, mid July 2004. I remember that walk. It was the first time I'd seen dodder, familiar to me from the magnificent Weeds of the Northeast. The dodder -- that sci-fi, promiscuously tangling, orange filament, that bull goose looney of tendrils -- was threading riotously through the weeds beside a small pump house and sluiceway. I remember how excited I was to encounter this thing I'd only seen in pictures. It was like spotting a celebrity.

These were camera woman's analogue days, her days of photo albums and blurry, scanned and digitized film images; her days of photolab mailers, and pictures shot in stingy multiples of 24 through a lens clever enough to do both zoom and 2:1 macro. And I did, somehow, get close enough to a lily once to capture its yellow, flaming heart.

I could frame this past year with two shots of an Island pickerelweed, the first a dreamy, translated film image

the second, a hyper-real digital close-up.

Now what of this progression ? From unfocus to clarity ? From the embryonic to the fully developed ? From benightedness to enlightenment ? From muddle to crystal clear epiphany ?

Or maybe it's simply a technical issue ? All the better to see you better, my dear ? A confession: I slipped into Ritz Camera and asked to hold a Nikon D70 , the digital analogue of my old film camera. It was substantial, almost heavy. I peered through the viewfinder and focused. Zoomed in and out. There was the SLR world I'd cut my photographic eye-teeth on, not just the tight, compressed imago in the LCD screen. I sighed with greed-tinged nostalgia. Sweet, as the kiddos say. Swee-eeet.

I'd need about a gig of memory, right ? I said to the clerk. I'd done my homework. It's true. I wanted the thing, and had been wanting it for a while now.

I felt like the fisherman's wife. I was in serious flounder, flounder territory. From a hand-me-down 1960's Minolta 7s, to the Nikon N75 DK got me for Christmas, to the Powershot A80 I got DK for Christmas the next year and, well, have taken over and now what -- I would be emperor ! Pope ! God himself !

I handed the weighty thing back to the young man, thanked him and left.

Weighty. Weighty as what ? An ego ?

What is all this picture taking, anyway ?

Why, for example, was a middle-aged man in a bad suit and a worse haircut filming a pretty young woman and a chicken ? And why was a gray haired woman in muddy canvas sneakers taking a picture of them ?

And who's taking this picture, Flounder ?

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