Picture This

I’m a terrible photographer. I’m not being modest; I just don’t have the imagination or the patience to take amazing photos.

I know people who are good photographers and who aren’t professionals. Bill is a very good photographer, for example. When we took our three-month European trip in 2008, he was the primary photographer. That was before phones became cameras. But he didn’t use a fancy-dancy camera. He had a simple point-and-shoot camera. But when he pointed and shot, he created great memories. Bill has an eye for what makes a good photo, what to include in photo, and how to frame the shot.

When I was in journalism school at the University of Colorado, we were required to take a photography class. We were taught how to do all of the things I mentioned above. But good photography isn’t something you learn in a book. Sure, you can learn the principles of taking pictures, but if you don’t have the patience and imagination that I mentioned above, your pictures are going to be ordinary. Perhaps good enough to accompany a news story, and that’s when I still intended to be a news reporter.

Having said that, some of the most memorable photos I’ve ever seen came from photojournalists. When you think of the Kent State shootings, I know you are picturing the photo taken by John Filo of the girl kneeling by the student who had just been shot dead by a police officer. An iconic photo taken of a little naked Vietnamese girl running from Napalm bombing, her clothes ripped off in an unsuccess attempt to cool down, transformed many people’s minds about the controversial war.

In my short-lived years as a news reporter, I had a number of occasions to use my photographic skills (as they were) and the Canon camera I had purchased, thanks to my then-husband selling his guitar so that we would have enough money to purchase it. You don’t remember seeing any iconic photos from moi, though, do you?

One of the skills I learned in my photography class was how to develop photos. I used that knowledge, both in my news reporting job, and also in the job at which I spent most of my professional life. Developing film was undoubtedly my favorite part of photography. I loved the smell of the chemicals and the red safe light in the darkroom that allowed me to work without bumping into tables holding the trays of chemicals. But most of all, I loved putting the photo paper into the tray, and watching an image magically appear. Of course, I know it isn’t magic, but it seems like it.

Nowadays, photographers — whether artists or journalists — mostly use digital cameras. Just like I never understood why music aficionados prefer plastic records over CDs or digital sound, I don’t understand why digital photography is any better or worse than using a regular, old-school camera. What I do know, however, is that the experience of watching a photo appear on paper is one of many things the younger generation won’t experience, Polaroid instant cameras notwithstanding.

Add that to receiving a letter and talking on a telephone with a 10-food curly cord.