Saturday, February 9, 2013

1,000 Words vs. A Picture

Why I came to be grateful my camera fell in the sand


I grew up writing. I wrote letters, journal entries, and reports. I have notebooks full of my old pencil- and crayon-decorated writings. I read back over them and laugh at my imagination and the things I said. My pen pals and I exchanged packs and packs of letters. Writing was more natural to me than speaking. In a face-to-face conversation, I would often find myself frozen, unable to think, but with pen to paper, the ideas flowed. I remember asking myself on more than one occasion, "Well, how would I write it?" in order to release myself from the uncomfortable position of not knowing how to say what was in my mind.

I grew up reading. Reading was as second nature to me as breathing. I learned to read at the age of 3 and cannot remember not knowing how to read. I devoured books at the expense of social interactions. I read every book in our house and was quickly exhausting the ones at the library.

I grew up storytelling. I would sit in the sandbox and create a giant mountain, decorate it with a few sticks and pine needles, and begin telling a thrilling saga of the tiny people who lived there, enjoying they way all the other children would pause pushing their dump trucks, edge closer, and listen with rapt attention.

Writing is a friend, a familiar ally, a standby. If I want words, they come. If I want to portray a scene, I can. If I want a rich description, I can write one. If I want to make a situation sound humorous, stodgy, technical, Victorian, or childlike, it's not that hard. Words and I get along.


I take really mediocre photographs. I love photography, and I've had a camera at my side almost every day since 2002, but let's face it: my photography is not world-class. I'm more of a kodak-moment type of girl, and my pictures are just everyday snapshots. After eleven years and thousands of photographs, I don't show a great deal of promise for being the next up-and-coming talented photographer.

And that's ok. I'm not aiming to be one. I'm not trying that hard. I don't really even care if I have a nice camera. The little point-n-shoot is good enough for me. I don't deserve any special accolades. And I don't need any special self-esteem boosters, either. I take the pictures that I take. I'm okay with that.

Writing + Photography

Something happened to my writing when I added a camera to my life, something so subtle that I didn't recognize it until suddenly the camera was gone.

Memories that I would want to capture, which I would have previously written down, could now be captured simply and easily with one click of a button. Snap! went the camera, and then I was off the hook to actually go through the trouble of a journal entry.

If I had written it down, it would have come with thoughts, emotions, descriptions, and interpretations. I could have highlighted attitudes and personalities, reasons why things happened, and all kinds of things invisible to the camera's lens. Writing transmits ideas, not just the way things looked. Great photographs can transmit ideas, too. But my photographs were not in that category. All I really ever captured was the way something looked.

There was something really funny going on here,
and I know we were crying with laughter,
but I no longer have a clue what it was. 
Over and over, in multiple, multiple situations, I have a photograph, but the funny memory attached to the photograph is something I have to supply, something not recorded anywhere other than in my brain, something that only I can enjoy when I look at the photo. If I had written the memory, on the other hand, then everyone would be able to enjoy it. It would still be sparkling with freshness and laughter, transporting the reader back to the moment when it happened. But unfortunately, my own memories of the specialness behind the photo often fade, leaving me only with the way things looked. The photo looks commonplace and there doesn't appear to be any reason why it was taken or what story it tells, or indeed, why one should not hit 'delete.'

This habit of taking photos created a laziness in my writing. "Oh, I don't need to describe that now. I have the photo," I would say to myself. Then, when I would write something, I would skimp on taking pains for all the parts that I had photos for, and my writing would inevitably disintegrate into a boring recitation of factual information; what we did and where we went and who we were with.

I think back to some of the letters I used to write, before I ever had a camera, and I was able to capture situations and frame them uniquely and create a tiny little masterpiece of writing around the event I was describing.

And since I haven't had a camera, that ability has begun to come back to me. It's better than the best picture I've ever taken. Now that that old laziness is no longer an option ("Oh, the photo will tell the story"), the wit and sparkle of my writing has begun to revive.

You would think that writing plus photography would be better than writing alone. And it is. Who wants to be faced with a wall of plain old text? There's no doubt that visuals capture the eye and draw the reader in. I'm not saying anything to debunk that. I'm all for appealing layout, world-class photography, and proper typography.

But I'm just now discovering that for me personally, my best writing comes when I am unable to do any photography. Considering that my photos aren't that great anyway, no one will be the poorer for their absence. Leave the photography to someone else, someone who is actually qualified, whose images actually speak, and let me write.

Now let me go find someone else's picture to illustrate this post.

All of that said, I do realize that the lack of current photos on this blog will cause a general outcry, and may even cause me to lose some readers. It will only appeal to those who read, i.e, who have time and interest to read, not to those who merely scan. Believe me, I've been going through camera starvation, and if I get another camera (or unclog the sand from mine), I will post pictures again. Part of the reason I have neglected this blog since the beginning of the year is that I don't have any more photos to add to my posts. But hopefully, in the meantime, to those who do read, the quality of what you read will be more worth your time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting! I love comments! You have just made my day! :-)