When I was ten and living in Massachusetts, my paternal grandfather sent me a small instamatic camera through the mail from Oregon. As I recall, this gift came out of the blue, possibly not even connected to a birthday or Christmas, which was highly unusual. In 1972, you paid for film development and didn’t find out till afterwards if the photos were any good, so I tried to make every photo count.
I didn’t have a knack for photography, but over the course of the rest of his life, my grandpa gave me two, maybe three, more cameras. It never occurred to me to wonder why I got the old camera when he upgraded, and this is still a little mysterious to me. Did he give similar things to his other grandchildren? Did he think I’d be good at it? I don’t know the answers.
At the beginning of this month, a neighbor told me about a photographer who’d invited people to take a photo a day for the month. I was intrigued, and also a little intimidated. Then I remembered the nature photography class Luken had take as a nine-year-old. I asked if he’d come into the yard with me for a lesson. In ten minutes, I feel like he made me a better photographer than I’d managed to become through trial and error. The results are below. See if you can tell which was about the lesson on contrast, which about angle or perspective.
There was something so sweet about finding myself with my son in the yard taking pictures; it’s something my grandfather started almost 45 years ago, and I might finally be getting the hang of it.
A couple days ago, Garth and I were returning home from 6 a.m. yoga. There’s a methadone clinic between the yoga studio and our house, and it’s always busy first thing in the morning. This morning, as we passed by, my eye was caught by a flash of bright pink. Walking along, holding her dad’s hand as they left the clinic, was a small girl of no more than three years old. Her blond hair was tangled and mashed on one side from sleep; she wore her pink sleeper and held a doll close to her chest.
My first thought was one of sadness. Here was a little girl (my narrative went) dragged from her bed on a cold, dark morning so her former heroin addict dad could get his methadone.
Then I saw myself: a middle class woman of comfortable means driving home from a yoga class before the start of work, pronouncing on a scene I knew nothing about.
What if I had it all wrong and my narrative didn’t describe her experience at all? What if methadone has given her daddy back to her? What if this is the first time in her life that he has held her hand and it makes her feel loved? What if the people at the clinic fuss over her and she adores the ritual of entering the warm building with its wafting smell of coffee and its smiling adults – smiling at her because they are uplifted by her fresh presence?
I want all children to grow up safe and warm and unscathed by things like drugs and early-morning awakenings, but I also want to remember that a life which appears, to me, to be devoid of these things may still be a life that is loved by the person living it.