Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Moving Pictures

Cameras interest me - always have. The first one I remember was a Polaroid black-and-white belonging to a friend of my father. I can still smell the preservative he swiped across the surface of the photo after it was ripped from the camera and peeled off. That an image was created a minute after the event amazed me. The following Christmas, I got a box camera with 620 film, a flash attachment, and a carton of flashbulbs. After reading the directions, I loaded it and shot the whole roll using up all the flashbulbs. I remember how they smelled too. My mother put the exposed film in a high cabinet over the stove until it could be developed. That took years and I worried that the film would go bad. I felt responsible for the images that might be lost because of my procrastination. Finally, I got on my bicycle and brought them to the drug store to be developed after I got a paper route and started earning my own money. I was relieved to see that the images were preserved with only a little deterioration on the edges, but I don’t know where those pictures are today, forty-five years hence. I’d love to see them again.

My next camera was a gift from my wife during our first Christmas together thirty-five years ago. It was a very nice 35 millimeter Minolta SRT-101 and I still have it. We couldn’t really afford it back then, but she bought it for me anyway. I’m glad she did because that camera recorded what I considered important, or beautiful, or both, for three decades of my life until I got a digital camera - another Minolta. With that, I’ve taken almost three thousand shots in only two years. Those I keep on my laptop and I back them up on CDs stored in a fire-proof safe.

Very few movies of my life exist because movie cameras were even more expensive and nobody thought ahead enough to make the sacrifice and buy one except my Uncle Joe. He bought an early eight millimeter and took a few movies of my family when we visited 40-50 years ago. They’re still expensive, but I broke down and bought a digital video camera earlier this summer. I also bought a new laptop which could edit movies and burn them into DVDs. Together, the items cost me about $1500 - probably the equivalent to what my Uncle Joe spent.

It took me two weeks to shoot the first hour, then two days to figure out how to convert that hour into a 96-minute DVD with a musical sound track, a few stills, text for chapters and a menu with scene selections. The finished product wouldn’t interest anyone but me and the people who are in it - four generatons of my extended family. For two days, I watched clips of our get-togethers over that period. Again, I shot only the people and the things important or beautiful to me - not the world, but to me. That meant family - people I love, who, I think, love me back. That came through in the video, so much so that I got emotional as I worked on it. Moving pictures of my family were exactly that: moving.

The camera has a microphone that picked up sound better than I thought it would and the computer’s video-editing software had room for two additional soundtracks. I selected some Van Morrison from my CD collection and went to iTunes for two pieces. For scenes at the homes of my two married daughters, I used music they chose for father/daughter dances at their weddings - “Tupelo Honey” by Van Morrison for Sarah and “Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong for Annie. There was a ten-minute clip of my son, Ryan, and daughter, Annie, talking with their grandfather, Ted, who turned eighty-five and was reflecting on what that feels like. Sinatra’s “My Way” seemed appropriate for that and the software could adjust relative volume of dialogue and music. There was room for a third sound track, but I don’t know what to do with that yet.

There are no smells associated with taking movies. The process is electrical and digital as opposed to mechanical and chemical as with older image-recording technology. Seeing my subjects move and hearing them at the same time is fascinating though. Watching my seven-year-old grandson, Riley, walk, run, swim and laugh - and then hearing it too is more profound than silent, still pictures. There’s more to composing a video than composing a static photo. My old cameras use one medium, but the video camera uses three. Or does it? There’s vision and sound, but is motion a medium? I think it is.

It’s only recently that I’ve learned to put still photos on my blog, but now I can put video on there too. I’m not sure when or even if that’ll happen, but the possibility intrigues me. Media is changing, and our lives are changing with it, for well or ill, but I’m optimistic. I think the changes will serve us because they decentralize media - and we humans are nothing of not creative.



Tom my dad your(Uncle Joe) I think may still have that 8mm movie camera.Those were the good old days as they say, when times were simpler.By the way he'll be 89on halloween.Enjoy reading your articles , keep up the great work you do. Cousin Mike

Tom McLaughlin said...

Good to hear from you Mike. I guess it's time to get those movies converted into DVDs, huh?

Wow. Eighty-nine years old. He still looks good. There's a still picture of Joe holding my grandson, Riley, on his lap on the DVD mentioned above. He's a great man. My mother is sitting next to him.