Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Seeing Through My Camera's Eye

I think my camera is something of a drama queen. There are a number of reasons I think this.

A fun post over at Father Tony's on the subject of synethesia has me noticing once again how strong my habits towards anthropomorphism are. While my claims to being a synesthete are slight (I don't immediately see numbers, letter, musical notes as having colors, though I understand the impulse), it was funny to rediscover that I ascribe personalities to numbers (up to the first 12, at least) and letters. They're not detailed, mostly just ages, genders and some broad characterizations, and as is the case for many synesthetes, my sense of these qualities fades if I focus too hard on them. Nonetheless I have an idea of what the #5 is like, I know she (yes, she) sees the #2 and #3 as annoying younger sisters, and she has a crush on the #7 (and older boy, who barely knows she exists). Not every digit or letter is equally vivid; my sense of the letter X's personality is probably not as strong as my sense of who the letter B is, but I see something for them each.
So it probably isn't surprising that machines, with their activities, behaviors and apparent opinions would easily become animate for me. In the case of my camera, this process has been helped by the fact that it can occasionally send me written messages. For example I will receive this note periodically.
Warning!! Mode dial is not in the proper position.

Yup, bright red letters, two exclamation points (and Birdie would suggest this makes the camera sound like a teenage girl), and seriously, 'warning'? We couldn't just say "dial is between settings?" Or "pick a mode there, Einstein"? And there are eight different settings it could be on, why not say 'a clear position' as opposed to 'the proper position'? So, getting this response tipped me off that the camera might be a bit fond of drama. It was when I first got the message,

Warning!! Batteries exhausted

that I found myself saying (out loud) "okay Camille, geez. Lighten up, cupcake." And just like that, I'd found my camera's name. (Talking out loud to myself or inanimate objects seems to be happening more as I get older. Make of that what you will.)

I wondered for a while if she was Camille as portrayed by Charles Ludlum, but more and and more I think it's Garbo. For one thing she is unwilling to get as close to people as I like. With strangers I am still very Midwestern in my body-space preferences (which can make rush hour on the subway a bit of a trial) but with people I know and like, that is, the folks I am generally wanting to take photos of, I want to get cozy. Doing so with this camera, however, doesn't work. Maybe she doesn't 'vant to be alone' per se, but if I get too close to the subject, the image comes out blurry. I've learned that arm's length at least is necessary for a clear portrait, and don't bother using the magnification button. My success is still not total, there is more to learn, but there has been an improvement in my average.
I've also been getting to know her likes and dislikes this past year, and I'd say I'm the richer for it. For one thing, Camille has taught me a greater appreciation for urban environments. Where I would see nothing but soul-less cement, she might see rhythmic patterns of light, shadow and textures, and because of her I'm developing an appreciation for them too. This past winter I also started noticing the skeletal beauty of leafless trees. Camille may not get all the credit for this one though; I think I've heard Java, Birdie, Tornwordo, the Midnight Gardener, and my mother all make a similar observation. Maybe they have influenced me, maybe we're all responding to something in the air, I don't know, but if one were to look at the photos I've taken in the past year, silhouettes of trees and branches figure more heavily than I would have predicted. Actually, Camille's fondness for silhouettes is another thing she's taught me. And while we share an appreciation for chiaroscuro and El Greco skies, she sees them far more often, or is unashamed to exaggerate for artistic effect. On her side, I think she's beginning to appreciate overcast days more than she used to. I take credit for that. When we first started going out, she couldn't photograph anything but the most brilliantly sunny days. My Celtic temperment may be rubbing off on her ever so slightly. All good relationships require give and take.

Color is one thing we still seem to disagree most of the time. Not only will she see a different shade than I do (particularly when it comes to purple), she also seems to resist focusing on the rich deep colors I love best. You'd think a she would share my interest in stained glass, jewel tones, saturated colors or at least flowers (I mean, her name is Camille), but so far we don't agree, at least not on close-ups. Landscapes tend to fare better.

All in all though, I've been enjoying getting to know her funny little ways. Camille has gotten me to take more frequent walks, especially in places I might avoided in the past. I used to be unwilling to go alone to St. Nicholas Park, two blocks from my house, for example. There are usually lots of young men standing around in ones and twos, radiating what I can only characterize as a strong sense of expectancy. It wasn't that I felt in danger particularly, more like if I lingered to examine something, I'd create the impression I was interested in buying whatever they were selling (drugs? sex? I could never tell. I accept the possibility it might have all been in my head). Dawdling long enough to snap a photo though, seems to send a universal message that I really am just here for the scenery. So now I go to St. Nicholas any time I want. Being accompanied by another person or even a dog accomplishes the same end, so maybe this is another way Camille has taken on animate qualities in my head. I see her as company, pretty good company in fact.
Before some of you decide to drop a net on me, yes, I know what is really happening here. I'm getting to understand the workings of a machine better. It just should come as no surprise that I am tempted to do so by way of character and storytelling. The actions may be simple experimentation and practice, but the result seems highly subjective, even emotional, and that conjurs personality for me. At the very least, I've been seeing things with new eyes, noticing things that might have slipped past me before, and I'm grateful to this quirky little box for it.


Anonymous said...

WOW Simply love this post!


Jeff Wills said...

I love naming objects and, as you may already know, Megan is a huge fan of Tom Robbins' take on supposedly inanimate objects in "Still Life with Woodpecker." Camille is a great name, especially based on what you've told me before about your relationship. For my money, you're taking wonderful photographs. I still have one as a wallpaper at work.

But you're totally wrong about the numerals. 5 is totally a dude, and a butch one at that. 2's female, with a real energy for playing with others, while 3 is male and sort of a scrappy jack-of-all-trades. As for 7, well, s/he's sort of the ultimately desirable androgynous one (or at least bisexual). Gorgeous, naturally.

That kind of thing is what allowed me to survive math classes with my sanity intact.

Greg said...

This was just great!!!

It's been great fun watching your relationship with Camille as you've gotten to know one another better. The photos here are just great. The last one, what is that? From an airplane?

The pier stumps are great. And I newly appreciate the similarities between stained glass windows and friendship bracelets.

Thanks for the good humor; I'm still chuckling at you calling her "cupcake."

Birdie said...

Photos tell us as much about the photographer as they do his subject. And your photos are beautiful. Be sure to thank Camille for me, exclamations notwithstanding. I'm going to go back and examine your photos again; it felt like speeding when I was reading.

I have detected personalities in a few of my belongings; my car is female, but my cameras are male. (It explains so much.) I find that I end up dealing with them as I would a person, mostly respectful and sometimes impatient.

Java said...

"Thing" things are easier to deal with if they are animized. I think, anyway. Though I haven't come up with a good name for my computer. My daughter calls hers "Hogarth" which I think is fantastic. I'm not as friendly with my camera. I tend to ignore her most of the time. I don't know why.

Again, I'm struck by the beauty of those naked trees. The stained glass is gorgeous, too. I think Camile did a good job with the glass, as picky as she is about colors.

Brian said...

These are really fantastic pictures.

Patrick said...

Thank you, HH, glad you liked it. And I don't think I've said it before, but welcome to my little blog. Hope you visit again.

Jeff: That's another funny thing about synethesia, people will disagree about the color of Sunday, and be passionate about their choices. Your vision of #7 is hot. My #2 is a tomboy, definitely scrappy. No way is #5 a manly dude. No way. I think I still do math largely through a system of soap opera-like story telling and pie charts. #13 (probably my favorite number) for example, I immediately think of 6 in relation to 7, 3 to 10, 5 to 8, 4 to 9 etc. I'll see each number is a certain sized slice.

Greg: yes, I took that last photo on a flight out to Indiana, then one of the flight attendants got on the speaker to remind us that all electronic equipment must be turned off, and I realized I was the asshole they were talking to. Oops. But I got some great shots first.

Birdie: it will probably come as no surprise to you that everyone in my family names their cars. Often the names have come to Mom in dreams (same with pet names). It tickles me still to realize that you have met my whole family. There are friends of mine here in NYC who can't say that.

Java: my computer's name is Hermes Sophia, Herm for short. I'm not QUITE sure that's the right name for him/her, but it's what I've gone with so far. I actually am pretty pleased with the stained glass photo, but if you enlarge it, you'll see it's out of focus. And this was one of the best shots I got that day. The same problem is evident with the friendship bracelets.

Brian: thanks, I'm glad you like them. Camille really has shown me a very good time this past year. I fantasize about what she'd do with Cape Breton, still one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

tornwordo said...

I love the skeletal trees. And the novelty never seems to wear off. I think this is probably because I grew up in Southern California and therefore we didn't have many leafless trees. I usually see the tree as a HAND of the Earth.

Butch said...

Beautiful pictures, all. I especially, love stained glass windows and when the sun is shining through them it is an experience to behold.

Marta said...

patrick, this post rocks. i just sent it to my friend donna who is an awesome photographer.