Ottawa
3 min

Scoring an A+ in Nikon lust

My life as a Flickr archaeologist

I’ve been loping in and out of electronics stores for five years, daring myself to buy a camera but never going through with it. My consumer jitters have nothing to do with brand pickiness, resolution details or the ability of an analogue dinosaur like me to figure out the digital functions.

It has everything to do with not wanting to press reset on how I interact with the world.

I recently figured out that my stutter is one of the reasons I began to write, out of a search for fluency. Now I realize that I use the lack of a camera as a similar motivator: without a device to freeze-frame images that resonate with me and pluck all the right sinews, I must continue relying on words to capture all of my impressions.

Masochistic, I know. And yes, I still use old tropes like “on film.” It might be a while before I adopt twenty-first century lingo.

So, I guess I’ve shaped my writing identity into a camera-phobic beast. I have a silly fear of walking out of Future Shop with the latest SLR model and then listening to the snap, click, whirrrr of my career fizzling away. Surely, I can’t be serious, you ask? But I am. You should hear the arguments I have with myself.

Though I haven’t always been estranged from photography. My Nikon, I remember, was a reliable lover. Simple bones and levers. Heavy as a cow’s head, too.

We attended Concordia University together in 1997, enrolled in a photography and art history double-minor program. (Art History’s History by Vernon Hyde Minor is a fascinating book. It’s so postmodern, it has a table of contents for the table of contents.)

Being in the student darkroom made me hard. I cruised art for hours on end, mucking around in fixer and stop bath, hovering over the film processing tanks to cop a cheap high, consistently overdeveloping my film and saturating my enlarging paper with too much magenta. I got off.

Was my work edgy or lazy? It didn’t matter. My black-and-white prints were good enough to score exhibitions in Montreal’s most obscure cafés. Then my interdisciplinary art professor kicked me out of her class for being undisciplined, and I dropped out of photography a week later, clutching my filters and my pride.

My Nikon soon started hanging out at the pawnshop, and gradually broke off all contact with me.

Photo I’ll never forget: A friend sitting on the roof of our old apartment in 1997, huddled in a foam mattress to ward off the cold. A cigarette dangles from his lips. He’s wearing tinted prescription glasses, explaining the colours of the universe to me and drawing metaphysics in the air with wisps of smoke. The contrast is blinding — magenta killed off my greys.  

I spent the next few years posing in other people’s pictures.

My left side, I know from experience, is my most photogenic — for all body parts. I learned to catch my reflection in the lens and adjust my naked body accordingly, feeling my way through proper butt lighting. I’ve scaled fences with transgressive photographer Richard Kern to access perfectly decrepit locations, the only ones that could make us both happy.

And now, with a lifetime of memories trapped in the photo albums of friends and strangers, I’ve become a full-time archaeologist: digging for myself. Have you snapped any photos of me fumbling through rites of passage? Send them over ASAP, so I don’t have to pillage your Flickr account and send you threatening e-mails asking for the password.

Photo I’ll never remember: I once jumped into the New York City subway tracks — within a minute of a passing train — to rescue a pic of myself I had dropped in the toxic sludge of exploded AA batteries, nestled by the high-voltage third rail.

I have no idea what the shot was. Faded memory has given it a permanent blur.

But it’s time for a change. I’m sick of running away from the technology I want most. If I have a picture of you, I won’t stop writing about you; instead, I’ll have hours to stare at your unblinking face, to steal parts of your soul I can distil into words, convincing myself that your quirks are god-like. And I’m tired of harassing you in high-resolution for photos I could be taking myself.

A friend recently wrote to me: “Before you go to bed tonight, do something that scares you.”

Future Shop is open late, isn’t it? If I don’t chicken out at the cash register, tonight I’ll be walking out with a Nikon D5000 12.3 MP digital SLR with 18-105mm lens kit, 3-D tracking, and one-touch live view. 

That’s a guaranteed bedtime boner.

Soon, when I have my new hardware, I’ll be able to snap shots like the ones I missed last week: coordinators of Laurier University’s Rainbow Centre celebrating a successful Queer Awareness Week, slathering each other in strawberry shortcake, awarding me a school t-shirt after my reading.

The one I now wear to pretend I graduated from university.

I’m so happy somebody has the pics.