Saturday, October 29, 2011


Growing up, we had a Hoosier in our kitchen, an antique wooden kitchen cabinet with drawers, shelves, and a metal countertop that could be pulled out to make extra space for rolling out pie dough or letting cookies cool. Inside one of the cabinets was a flour sifter, which fascinated me even though my mom chose to keep her flour in the silver tin with the red metal lid instead. The cabinet held cookbooks, a box with stamps and unused greeting cards, tape, glue, odds and ends. And, for a while, it held a couple of old Instamatic cameras, the very cameras which my mom had used to capture so much of my childhood. 

There were a few other older cameras around the house, old twin-lens reflex cameras in leather cases, with two lenses on top of one another and a flap at the top which opened up to reveal the viewfinder. There were cameras in our house for as a long as I can remember, and I almost cannot remember a time when I wasn't trying to use them. The first camera I ever used was one of my mom's old Instamatics, and eventually my parents got me a little red Pentax which I used for years, until they gave me my first single lens reflex camera. Photography, carving up life into what I can see through the viewfinder, is as much a part of me as any other part of my childhood - red Ohio clay, the smell of donkeys eating corn husks, Fiestaware, tomato leaves crushed on a bee sting. 

I had breakfast with a photographer friend recently and she talked about how it feels when you know you've gotten a shot just right, when the light and the action and the composition all come together and you know the image is perfect. You can feel it when it happens - everything just clicks into place. She said it feels like a drug, like an addiction. To me it feels like a rush of energy, a transfer of some spark between me and the universe, me and my subject. It feels...right. Like what I'm meant to be doing. 

I love that feeling of a perfect composition captured, but it's more than that. When I'm looking through the lens I can clean up the world, edit all the messiness out of the frame that makes life so difficult. That's what makes a great composition - space. It's as much about what is not in the frame as it is about what's there. What else in life can do this, can simplify life down into what fits inside a little rectangle or square. It's the only tool I've found that creates real simplicity, that lets us push out all the mess and focus on what we want to see - the hands together, the kiss, the baby's bright eye, the smile. 

It lets us stop time, too. Whenever I'm doing something I really love, or with people I love, I want my camera there, too. Walking on the beach, sharing a great meal, the changing of seasons. Even when they are things we've done before I want to capture them, want to try to freeze those images so I can savor the feeling a little longer, feel the sand and waves on my feet even when I'm back home with the furnace running and my slippers on. 

Right now i feel like time is moving faster than ever, watching my sweet kids growing up before my eyes. The weeks are tumbling by like all those crisp leaves on my street, scraping across the pavement in the wind. I have one more week of maternity leave, one more week where my focus can be on my home and family, where I can sit on the couch with Oscar's warm little head nestled under my chin if I want to. I'm thankful for the time I have had - I know it's more than most are blessed with - and thankful for my job. But I am sad to leave this sweet boy, sad that the brutal reality of life is that working full time and being a mother are not really compatible, not matter how family friendly the work environment. 

So, I'm trying to stop time with my photos, trying to capture the new smiles and the soft hair that sticks up so funny after bath and the way Oscar makes a fist with his thumb stuck between his first two fingers. I'm trying to get it all down on film so it doesn't really go away, so that somewhere - even if its in some digital cyber universe - there is a new sweet boy kicking his legs and babbling and smiling at me, waiting for the next opportunity to nestle his head under my chin.