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JACK SMITH

I Am Not a Camera : Some Experiences Are Best Committed to Memory, Not to Film

January 04, 1987|JACK SMITH

On our recent trip to Washington, my wife lost her camera 10 minutes after we first set out from our hotel.

We had taken a cab to the Washington Monument, and when we got out of the cab, she left the camera in it.

She was desolate. Inconsolable.

Neither of us could remember the name of the cab company. I couldn't even remember what color the cab was.

I was afraid it was going to spoil her trip. "Forget it," I said. "We can buy another one."

Besides, I told her, she'd have more fun without it, not having to carry it everywhere, not having the responsibility of taking pictures.

She was not persuaded; but finally she got used to not having the camera with her. I think she began to enjoy the freedom. We didn't buy a new one.

So we have no pictures of our trip.

It may be heresy, but I see some advantages in that. Usually she takes from 60 to 100 pictures when we travel. She's always saying, "Let me get a shot of that," and we have to hold up while she snaps it. One of the problems, of course, is that most of her pictures are of me. Me standing on the Pont Neuf, me in front of the Tower of London, me in Red Square.

Once, when we were in New York, a stranger saw her taking a picture of me on the Brooklyn Bridge and offered to take a picture of the two of us together. It is one of her favorite travel pictures, because we're both in it.

I would not say that my wife is a camera bug. She is not interested in the intricacies of an advanced 35-millimeter. Her camera was a Canon Sure-Shot, one of those automated little jobs that you only have to load, point and shoot.

On our trip to Moscow and Leningrad several years ago she learned her limitations. She had borrowed an expensive and technologically sophisticated 35-millimeter. It could do more things than she cared about.

But she wanted to take it because I was going to write a magazine article about the trip, and I wanted her to take pictures to illustrate it. I told her she would get paid. It was a thrill, thinking of herself as a professional.

One of the things the camera had was a delayed-action feature, so you could put it on a tripod, set the timer, then push the release. The camera would wait 10 seconds, ticking away, while you went out in front of it and got into the picture.

She never understood that feature. Sometimes she would accidentally push the timer button, and the camera would start ticking. She would worry that something was wrong with it and then put it in her purse to shut out the ticking.

Consequently she got several graphic pictures of the inside of her purse, as well as some interesting shots taken while she was moving the camera toward her purse. One of those, as I remember, showed the shoulder of a Russian man.

Actually, the magazine used her pictures, including the one of the Russian's shoulder, one that showed a tilted hotel room and one that showed the inside of her purse. I think she was paid $150 for the lot.

I don't mean to say that she doesn't take good pictures. She has a good eye for a scenic shot, and many of her pictures would bear blowing up and framing. Her favorite is the window-frame shot. That is one she takes through a window, so that we see a sunny meadow, river or city street through the window, and everything not seen in the window is in black shadow.

We have dozens of pictures like that taken from castles, monasteries, boats, airplanes, houses and even automobiles.

When we get home, she has her film processed, and then some evening we sit side by side on the sofa and go through all her pictures, reliving our trip, laughing or falling silent at some remembered experience, and generally enjoying it.

That is the end of it. The pictures are never mounted in an album. They are never looked at again, except, perhaps, to be brought out for some defenseless relative. They go into some drawer where they are quite forgotten.

I suppose the reason we always take pictures is that we hope some day to re-create the thrill of our travels, to revive an hour spent in a Venetian piazza, a Munich beer garden, a medieval inn in Rothenburg, a castle in Wales.

Perhaps, some day when we are old, we will do that.

In Washington, though, we found it is possible, and carefree, to travel without a camera.

But I would like to have a picture of myself standing in front of the Washington Monument.

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