By whatever means necessary

A new camera is not a small thing. Well, it is a small thing, and all the controls are made for 13 year old girls with tiny fingers and better than 20/20 vision.


Back in the day when I was first obsessed with photography I had a Canon A-1 that could do everything completely manually including focus and aperture and had beautiful lenses. I’ve never been a Nikon woman, not given to being enamored with gear so long as the tools do the weird stuff I want them to do and they are good tools. I feel fortunate that way.


Those were not better days. You had to go to the store and buy film. Then you loaded it into the camera. Actually, if you were a maniac like me you rolled your own rolls of film under cover of darkness with a plastic contraption you bought for that purpose and then you loaded the film into the camera hoping that you had gotten it to hook in just right so you would not take half a roll only to discover the film was still waiting to come out of its house like a shy snail. 


Then at the end of the roll, you rolled it back into its little house and took it out of the camera all the while hoping that your canister was still light tight. After which you went to the photo lab and did a lot of stuff for a long time which included rolling the film onto a reel for developing by hand and under cover of darkness and pouring mysterious fluids into it and a whole bunch of rhythmic shaking of the can with reel and film, and which, if you got it on right and not crooked or stuck against itself, resulted in negatives which you then dried dust-free and cut and stuck in sleeves.


If you had exposed it right and taken any photos that you thought might be worth having a look at you went into the real darkroom to essentially take another photo, this time through the negatives onto pieces of light sensitive paper with an enlarger, after which you dumped the paper in large trays and went wash wash wash, hoping that when you came out into the light it had been the right exposure again and the right contrast and crop and what have you so you could show someone something you had wrought.


And sometimes it was and that was the result of great work with the hands and a lot of peace came over you until the next time.


But that enlarger, Beseler was its name, that thing was not only stuck in the darkroom but also in the dark ages of the dawn of industrial-age technology with a focus knob the size of an elephant’s foot and about the same sensitivity (the gotcha! gang is going to tell me elephants have ticklish feet), and it was the bane of my existence as I pored over paper and negatives and tried to coax the focus by whatever means necessary to the point where I thought it was just right.


Apparently they made a great leap forward right after I exchanged photography and the darkroom for grad school and rural living with a septic system you would not want to wash all those chemicals into.


And right before the digital age. What a relief. Much as I liked all that rhythmic shaking and washing, I am pretty enamored of my digital camera and editing at the computer, and I’d throw the Beseler out the window if I’d still had it.


The Canon A-1 was replaced by a small Pentax Optio, good for taking snap shots on vacation. I even learned to fool its too-ample automatic features to focus, just right, how and where I wanted it.


Until it became clear I was stuck in the dawn of digital technology with man and dog waiting for me by the hour. The hound didn’t mind, the man was gracious, still, all that fumbling gets old when mosquitoes are swarming. Since I am apt to fall into the water on a weekly basis or sit in a rain storm trying to get a drip from a tree just right onto a leaf, it was time for a new waterproof camera that wanted to come with the hound and me into the bog.


Many episodes with many researches followed, and a candy-apple red Olympus TG-4 landed onto my doorstep earlier this week.


And now I have to find a way to focus again. By whatever means necessary to override the camera’s prim insistence on making things sharp in the middle of the screen and to keep adjusting until it is just right in the eyes of the mass of men rather than mine. Which requires at this moment an opposable pinkie unless I do everything upside-down.

Why not?

2 thoughts on “By whatever means necessary

  1. I remember, well I should say I remember now that you write about all the one had to do to get a final picture. My Vermont friends had a tiny dark room in the pantry of their tiny apartment and my cousin who was the head photographer at our local newspaper spent countless hours in the dark room. They did produce some amazing stuff.
    What you are showing above is pretty dam good.
    Perhaps you haven’t found the perfect camera for your fingers ?

    1. Hmm, I got the one with the best report on the macro both re lens and re operation. I think it is more that the combo small, waterproof, tough, and manual focus operation camera doesn’t exist. However, this one has two ways to freeze the focus, so I am working on making it happen. One interesting thing is that apparently it is important to get a lot in focus in Macro (which is what macro doesn’t do well, the depth of field is very shallow), so it has a special function for making that happen. That’s just about the opposite of what I like about it. But hey, they make it for the mass market, not for me. There’s a camera with exchangeable lenses and manual that shoots more like an SLR that is tough and waterproof, for $1600, and I would have bought it, but there’s no macro lens available for it. I will find a way to exploit what this camera can do to my advantage. Sure of it. What keeps interesting me is that it would be easy for them to put a manual focus function on, there are actual other manual overrides on this camera, but that they do not do, unless not that i have discovered so far. And if I find it, I will let the world know! I always keep in mind that I had friends in the 1890’s who broke open disposable cameras re-taped them shut after reloading and used that system to make great art — even taking advantage of the inevitable light leaks. I love that.

Tell me what you think!