By G. E. Shuman
Vacation season is about over. For most families the camper is put away, the pool is due for its fall cleaning (as soon as the leaves finish filling it up), the motorcycles and barbecue grills are still in use, but much less than weeks ago, and the kids are back in school. Yes, vacation season, for the most part, is over. So is all the sunny-day picture-taking fun that goes along with that season.
My daughter Emily is a photographer. Although she is barely seventeen years old, her talents with a camera are fairly well known in our area. She has taken many senior portraits, and has done at least three weddings already. She has a real knack for seeing and catching the moment; for ‘taking’ pictures.
I was thinking about her, and about this subject of picture-taking several days ago, and the English teacher in me made me think about the give and take of the way we phrase things. You see, when we talk about photography, we do refer to it as ‘taking’ pictures. Strangely, we do not think of artists as ‘taking’ anything when they draw or paint a scene on paper or canvas, even though they are attempting to copy the likeness of someone or some thing. They actually ‘give,’ in their craft, it seems. Pen, pencil or brush strokes put down on the paper or canvas the impression expressed by the artist’s mind, through his or her hand. Not quite so with photography. Photography is an invention which does more than portray something simply through the eyes of the picture-‘taker.’ Photography copies what is actually there. It grabs… it ‘takes’ pictures. The quality of today’s digital photography is almost scary-good in its ability to capture a moment, freeze an expression, or steal a scene. (I know. I tend to overthink things. I get boring when I do that, and I am sorry.)
Sometimes, when I look closely at a face in a picture, I am reminded that Native Americans, many years ago, when photography was a very new science, did not allow their picture to be ‘taken’ at all. They, with a degree of wisdom others might not have understood at the time, expressed that when a picture was ‘taken,’ so was the soul of the person in the portrait. There was something, to them, that was wrong in capturing that split second of a person’s life, and displaying it over and over to onlookers. Although we, today, know the reality of what photography actually is, I have wondered recently if those Native American people might have been onto something. They were not, scientifically, correct, but in some ways they were far from completely wrong. You see, what they were seeing, when they saw a picture of a person, was a momentary outward appearance of that person, and that outward appearance revealed the person’s feelings at that moment… it displayed their ‘soul,’ if you will.
Something else that photography does, although there is nothing necessarily wrong with this, is that it ‘freezes’ time. It ‘takes’ time, as we take a picture. One company, years ago, actually advertised that with their film and cameras you could ‘capture the moment.’ Well, isn’t that the true purpose of photography in the first place? Back in the days of film cameras, I have no idea how much film I wasted taking multiple pictures of one scene, in efforts to capture the moments of my family’s lives without missing anything. My home is filled with pictures of past Christmases, birthday parties, graduations, and weddings, all for the one purpose of being able to re-live those events, because those events meant so much to us at the ‘time.’
You take pictures. I take pictures. My daughter Emily takes GORGEOUS pictures, and would love to take yours, if you ever need her to. (That was a shameless plug for her.) These days, nearly everyone takes them, and loves to take them. If this were not so, a seemingly unrelated electronic audio device (the cell phone) would never have evolved to also be a camera. Those manufacturers really know how to grab us, don’t they?
Life is very short. People and things change. Your parents don’t look like they did ten years ago. Neither does your wife, your child, or your grandmother. Everyone has aged, except for me, and that’s only because all you see of me is the ten-year-old picture that lurks around one corner of this column week after week.
Here’s another thought, and then I’m going to stop thinking and boring you, I promise. It has been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Well, when you look at a cherished picture of a loved one, from the past, what is the first thing you see? To what are your eyes immediately drawn? They are drawn, exactly as in real life, to that other person’s eyes. It is in the eyes that we can truly see the person, and can almost sense their heart, their soul, their thoughts, no matter how old the picture is. In fact, the most common phrase someone might say when taking your picture, is to “smile,” and “look at the camera.”
Pictures really do freeze time in the windows to the soul. This fall, get your family outside under that big maple tree, and ‘capture the moment.’
“George’s World,” a new 740 page collection of George’s columns from The World, is available at xlibris.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and your favorite bookstore. “The Smoke And Mirrors Effect,” George’s first novel, can be seen at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Happy Reading!