I use words for several reasons. Some of them are obvious–words are fun, they’re functional, barking is hard on my throat–but as important as those is the fact that I can’t take pictures. The relative value of the two media is established aphoristically–one is worth a thousand of the other–but my pictures can’t live up to the standard. Instead, they’re worth exactly six words: “What is this supposed to be?”
That’s actually an improvement though, because when I started they were only worth two: “Stop that!”
My parents bought a camera for me early; I guess I was around six or seven. My older siblings had all gotten cameras young too, and had all grown to use and enjoy them. My father freelances as a professional photographer and has lived the rest of life as an enthusiastic amateur, so he passed along his passion and skills. I must have fumbled the skills.
I caught a double portion of the enthusiasm though, and applied it according to my “special” vision of reality. Mostly I spent a lot of time on the floor, taking close-up pictures of our ferrets. On the plus side, I always had an answer to what the picture was supposed to be: a ferret’s eye, a ferret biting the lens, a ferret trying to squirm out of my grasp so it can get away from the camera, et cetera. I would use entire rolls of film without getting more than an inch away from a ferret.
Not surprisingly, my parents stopped buying film for me. I’m not sure I noticed; I was not the most observant little boy.
I didn’t own another camera until my late twenties, and I only bought one then because it was a feature of my cell phone. (From film to camera-phones; the world had changed, as you can tell.) By that point my siblings all had cameras straight out of spy fiction and my father owned a camera that was worth more than my car. Plus he had a collection of photography equipment that looked like it came from NASA.
For my photography needs, I got a wife. She had a camera and she knew how to use it. Even better, her photos didn’t look like bad image captures from a grainy disaster video, or like the photos people use to claim that they’ve seen Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. They look like real life instead. There’s not a ferret in one of them.
Unfortunately, she’s never developed the ability to photograph the moments in which she’s involved. When she graduated with her Master’s degree, for example, the photography fell to me because our closest family lived a thousand miles away and all of our friends were either at work or graduating too. There’s another aphorism about desperate times and the measures they inspire; desperation is the only reason that anyone gives me a camera.
I did my best–I don’t try to take bad pictures–but we probably would have been better off had I thrown the camera off of the balcony where I was standing. We wouldn’t have any identifiable pictures, but we would have had an excuse to buy a new camera. Shopping for gadgets is always fun, even if they’re gadgets I don’t use. Instead I think I just gave my wife an excuse to shop for a new husband.
From her memorable day, the best picture was of the balcony railing. I think there was another picture that included people, but we really just guessed that they were people because we couldn’t figure out what else the black smudges could represent. I might have snapped a picture of a Dalmatian accidentally, but I didn’t remember any dogs there. To be honest though, I didn’t remember the balcony railing either.
Another thing my wife couldn’t photograph: our daughter’s birth. She was a bit distracted by labor. Fortunately, my skills had improved marginally by that time, but my judgment hadn’t. I captured a lot of moments that no one is going to want to remember, like when they took my daughter’s temperature for the first time. Anyone who knows how they take a baby’s temperature can imagine how unhappy my daughter looks in that picture.
I also have a picture of the moment when they cut her umbilical cord. Her expression in that picture shouts, “Hey, I need that!”
However, in almost every picture we can identify the baby, which is better than we expected. Actually, because God is gracious, we have a bunch of pictures that are even good. As a father though, I don’t think we have enough. That’s not a criticism, just a comment on fatherhood. Even if we videoed every second of our daughter’s life, I would complain that we didn’t have enough camera angles. I periodically lament that I don’t have enough eyes.
So, as a stay-at-home dad, I’m daily confronted with the possibility that something priceless and adorable won’t be remembered. Even if I tried to take a picture of everything, most of the pictures wouldn’t preserve anything but a story about how bad at photography I am. I’m more effective with words though. One of my hopes for blogging is that I’ll manage to preserve these memories for later enjoyment. I like to think that someday my daughter will be able to flip through these posts like a photo album.
Except that I’ll give her the thousand words instead of a picture. (A 994 word profit, if you grant my earlier math.)