Inside the Lens | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Inside the Lens

Once every couple of months, my laptop tells me that its memory is almost full. Everything starts moving slower, and I get more and more reminders as time goes by (and I'm notorious for waiting forever to fix the problem). While many of my memory problems are a result of the almost 50 gigabytes of music I have on my computer, the majority comes from somewhere else—thousands upon thousands of photos.

For as long as I can remember, I've always had a camera pressed to my face, from the days when I would only use disposable cameras to my current high-powered DSLR. I'm not sure what specifically drew me to photography, though it probably stems from my need to express myself artistically without drawing or painting.

It's an incredible medium, and you can do so much with it. My favorite photo in the world is "Dali Atomicus" by Phillipe Halsman. It's this insane black-and-white photo with suspended wooden furniture, cats and water flying through the air, and Salvador Dali jumping in the background. Halsman said it took him 28 tries to get everything perfect. Imagine having to throw cats and water and jump 28 times in a row.

That, to me, is more exciting than spending five hours working on one painting. You get to record light in the blink of an eye, whereas with painting and drawing, you have to sit in one spot for hours creating and recreating, drawing and redrawing one line. I'm not saying that you won't spend hours trying to get the perfect shot, but at the end of everything, you have more to choose from.

Photography may seem like an easy skill to learn, and if you understand the basic concept of "hit the shutter button and you take a picture," then yeah, it probably is. But really learning photography takes a long time, and you may never perfect your skill. I've taken numerous photography classes and have read many articles, and I'm still not as good as I could be. Sometimes, it takes a while for me to be satisfied with the shots I take. Like everything, sometimes photography is about taking a step back, breathing and then trying again.

Another wonderful aspect of photography is that you don't have to be particularly inspired. Sure, inspiration makes many a great photo, but really the key to being a good photographer is seeing. Elliott Erwitt once said: "To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. ... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."

If you see something cool, take a photo. A friend once told me that she doesn't understand photographers who never seem to have their camera with them; who never see the perfect shots in front of them.

I've told people before that I think being a millennial is neat because many of us remember what it was like when everything was analog, but we also saw the birth of modern technology. Those who were born around the time I was are young enough to integrate themselves in technology, but we also remember that there are things to do outside of texting on a cell phone. Many of us even watched the death of film photography. I remember that for photography in high school, we had to buy a film camera, and I bought a nice Canon Rebel 35mm. But when I took photography at Hinds Community College, film cameras had all but disappeared, so I ordered an antique camera from Amazon.

Though I've done more digital work in my lifetime, I can still remember the basics of a darkroom. Any time I smell vinegar, I remember passing photographic paper through chemical baths and washes, the dimness of the safety lights as I developed photos, watching as an image came from almost nothing. Not that I don't love digital. It's much easier, and it's instant. I don't have to fumble around in pitch-black darkness trying to wind a roll of film onto the reel or see spots when I finally turn on the overhead lights afterward. But if I had the money and space, I'd buy darkroom equipment and rediscover my love of film.

Technology lends itself well to photography, especially apps like Instagram. I can now take a photo and instantly show it to people, whether it be silly, serious or a photo of my food. I don't necessarily consider that true photography, though, because to me, photography is about more than pushing a button. Now, photographers post some incredible photos, and many do it with just an iPhone, and that's cool. But I think anyone who really and truly loves photography should really learn the skills behind it. The only way to really understand something is to see where it comes from. A button on a home screen can only do so much. If you really want to do something worthwhile, you have to learn how to use a real camera, with a manual function for aperture, shutter speed, white balance and ISO.

That's also why I think not everyone is a photographer, nor can every person in this world hope to be one. It takes work and vision, and a grander view of the world. There's more to life than taking photos of yourself or your food. I don't consider my Instagram photos art. They're just me goofing around, showing people my everyday life.

People criticize photographers for constantly having a camera pressed to their faces, and I've been criticized by people for constantly stopping to take a photo. I had a friend get mad at me in Scotland for doing that (in my defense, it's Scotland).

But the wonderful thing about photography is that you're still there. You're still in the moment. People think you're not enjoying it, but the truth is, you are. You're simultaneously taking in the scene in front of you and capturing concrete proof that you were there at that precise moment. That's why people often pay too much money for a wedding photographer. As you grow older with your husband, wife or partner, you will sometimes forget the good moments. It's nice to have something to remind you that you love this creature standing beside you, yammering on about dirty dishes.

Sometimes you have to remember to actually stop and take a look around you, yes, but what you get from a photo is a record of a memory. Our human memories fail us, but photos are forever (if you don't delete them). I, for one, would much rather be behind the lens than in front of it.

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