Thursday, October 03, 2013

A memory rarely filmed

For six years — 1999 to 2005 — I owned a not-so-gently used 1993 Chevy S-10 pickup truck. I was my first automobile, acquired for the princely sum of $900, and costing at least that much in repairs every six months.

It was my baby. I cared for it as well as I knew how, and treated every creeping defect as part of its charm — from the drooping top I eventually ripped out (and never replaced) to the windows held up with suction cups (which I could eventually lift up and down with one hand, without looking, while driving). Also, the radio faceplate was busted, so I covered the hole with a series of pieces of paper — the first drawn up to look like the real radio and the last that simply said, "RADIO."

Because of its distinctive green-and-tan trim, and my active community life, much of Lafayette associated the truck with me. At least twice, identical trucks got in severe accidents, and multiple people asked if I was all right. When the S-10 died on me for good less than a month after Hurricane Katrina, I cried. A month later, I wrote a long, funny eulogy blog for it.

And yet, I have maybe 20 photos of my truck from that entire period. Most of them aren't properly framed, many are out of focus and the best one is the only digital one — and it may be lost for good.

Here's the only one I know of online, posted to my then-new Facebook profile. It's the last picture I ever took of it, the day I said my final goodbye:

At this point, it had been sitting there a month, a tire was flat and much of the hood paint was gone. So, all in all, not much different than before.
By contrast, when I moved to Reno at the end of July, my mom took almost a dozen back-to-back pictures of me sitting in a hot tub. And of the highway scenery. And of the same casino signs. And of me driving. I'm often guilty of the same thing nowadays.

What happened? Camera phones.

Simply put, we have too much easy and unlimited photography available to us. And we're abusing it. For every old family photo that we have where I want to see more and know more, we have a current photo that I have to delete just to take more pictures.

During the truck years, I owned a Canon Sure Shot Owl 35mm camera that my parents got with Marlboro points. Like my mom, I was a shutterbug. But I had to be choosy with my 24 (or 36, if I splurged) exposures. Film and development both cost money. Sometimes I wouldn't know until getting the print that I blew the shot (like, say, a trash bag entered the frame, as seen above). Photo correction was not yet a thing known to me. So while in most ways digital photography is a vast improvement, it's also allowed an overuse that often cheapens the results.

There's a new commercial out now, I'm not even sure for what device, where kids are putting on a play and the parents are all jostling to film it with their tablets and phones like violent paparazzi. The purpose is to sell camera phones, but it also works as a PSA against them. That ad is what I thought of when I read this today. Valerie Alexander urges us to stop "capturing the moment" and, as George Carlin said well before the advent of camera phones, remember things.

Heed Valerie's advice and exercise discretion. Whenever I'm tempted to go crazy with the camera, especially at public events, I remind myself that those pictures will be less interesting than the memories. You might think you're saying, "Look where I was sitting when Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham connected on that touchdown," but really you're adding, "I was taking a picture of it. Hoping not to cheer too hard and ruin the shot." Don't worry. Plenty of others are doing it far better than you. And who knows — you might get in the professional shot too. That's something that will endure forever. Do you want to be remembered as a cheering fan, or as just another obscured face behind a smartphone?

I wonder if I'd had a digital camera during my truck days if I would have taken 10 million pictures of the truck from every angle. Probably. Then again, maybe not having done so is why my memories of it are so vivid.

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