Today I bought a camera at a local vintage store. It was a bit impulsive, but I have two rolls of film that expire in September and it was only $12. I’ve also been very interested in learning more about photography with film rather than my usual dSLR. I want that surprise of seeing how the pictures really turned out at the end of the roll.
I feel that those surprises can teach us something about life. There I was, carefully selecting subjects for my 27 photos and meticulously lining up the shots, and I have no promise that any of them will even turn out. Last time I took pictures with film—a disposable camera, 2009—I never got to see how a single shot looked because the camera was old and the film, ruined. None of my pictures turned out, and even though I have more hope in this camera, I don’t know that I’ll have better luck this time. My photos may turn out but not be exposed correctly, or they could all be blurry or show scratches from the lens or just not be composed how I had imagined through the viewfinder. I don’t know this camera, what it’s capable of or if it can be trusted. But I put a lot of time into it today, taking pictures and praying they’d turn out.
I like the limit that film provides, though. With 27 pictures available and no retakes, I’m not going to waste time or space on seven consecutive shots of something, trying to get that one perfect picture as I would do on a digital camera, where I have space for nearly 1,000 pictures and can easily erase the six less-than-perfect options. 27 pictures require thought. They require patience, careful selection and attention to details. You have to take your picture-taking slowly, as if to get it right the first time, because there is little room for error; there won’t necessarily be a second time. Sure, you could go back another day if the picture didn’t turn out as you envisioned, but that particular moment would be gone. It would be too late.
Not just that, but my camera can only see so far; only so much can fit into a picture. This tiny box can only do so much. A picture can only tell so much of a story (and not much, at that). I’ve found that the things about my day—about my summer—that I most wish to capture can’t be held in a photograph. The way a moment smells; how my hair falls, blown in the wind; the thrill of the first few notes of a favorite song beginning to play; a good hug from a friend; that feeling inside that makes you want to dance. All fleeting glimpses of something wonderful, all beautiful and inexplicable and not fit for a snapshot. Even my new (old) camera has an uncontainable essence to it. Life can’t be contained. Not in pictures. Not in my words, no matter how much I fancy my writing; it cannot do justice to an experience. We will never contain what we most long to hold onto.