By Darren Clarke July 16, 2017
“We are only immortal for a limited time.”
Eventually built-in obsolescence comes for everything on this planet that is not the Twinkie, the cockroach or the Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish. And so it was that mortality recently came looking for my camera.
The idea that my camera could stop functioning came as a surprise to me. It wasn’t working out too hard, it wasn’t eating too much, it wasn’t diving out of airplanes. My camera lead a pretty cushy life, I mean, I like nature but I pretty much only deal with the parts of nature that have a sidewalk real handy so, it’s not like it was going into the Amazon or anything. Nonetheless it died.
The first step in the grieving process is of course denial. The second stage is a Google Search. A Google search quickly provided the cold hard truth that every camera has a finite lifespan. The internet further let me know that the average amount of shutter clicks for the lifespan of a Nikon D3100 was 120,000 clicks. My camera has taken 122,349 shots.
Sometimes average is what you get.
The end of my camera’s lifespan saddened me for me for a lot of reasons: Cameras are expensive, that’s a real good place to start being sad, but beyond that my camera has been everywhere with me: England, Nicaragua, Nova Scotia, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Vermont, New Brunswick, Buffalo, New York City, Toronto, Montreal, and beyond, not to mention all over my neighborhood, the Niagara Region. But the main reason I was saddened by the end of my camera is it essentially was a gift to me from my father.
When my dad passed away he left all his kids some money. I felt a certain, not so much obligation, more a determination, to use the money in symbolic ways. I wanted to use the money on things that were deeply important to me and would have brought joy to my father in being able to make possible. My first action was to buy an engagement ring for my my now wife, Caroline, who my father loved very much. My second action was to buy a good camera.
I’d always wanted a good camera. I am in awe of the beauty around us. The lost, the not so lost, the peculiar, the pointlessly extravagant, the fading, the riveting, the quiet, the whimsical, the imposing, not to mention those fragile moments where things seem suddenly clear, when the elements and context conspire to give a specific time, a specific place, profound meaning regardless of the vagaries involved. Writing is a thing, it’s a way to maybe not so much capture as show reverence for the world around me but it’s so muscular, so controlling, so intellectual. Taking pictures on the other hand is the glorious smile on the shining, drunken, face, of a man leaning up against a light pole. Don’t look for reasons. Don’t ask for reasons. Enjoy the moment. When you see a sign that says, “Fruit, Snack, Umbrella, ATM Inside,” run, don’t walk to take that picture. The Gods are smiling upon you.
When I am wandering around taking pictures of whatever strikes my fancy I am commonly asked this question, “Why are you taking a picture of that?” Mostly this question is asked by people who are not nice human beings. Really what they are asking me is this, “What kind of dick wanders around with a camera? What is the matter with you?”
Because I’ve always known what the real question I was being asked was at first I tended to respond to their questions with something innocuous, “I just take pictures of random stuff…” all the while smiling and shrugging my shoulders in a manner as to say, “I know it’s not interesting and kind of weird but it’s harmless.”
One day though I was in Merritton, Ontario, taking a picture of the old recycling plant building when I was approached by a neighbourhood busy body with that very question, “Why are you taking a picture of that?” And I decided to tell her the truth, “I don’t really think about it in terms of, “why,” as in, I don’t intellectualize it. Photography to me is almost purely intuitive. I think there’s something that runs deeper in us, in the world around us, that attracts us to things or pushes us away from things, whatever, but it’s based on some very rich, very fundamental truths of who we are and the wider possibilities of what we can love. Essentially, if I can just keep my brain from limiting the possibilities, I can touch and be touched by truly special things, things that I don’t understand. We’re really talking about loving outside the boundaries of understanding. And that’s important.”
The neighbourhood busybody of course stopped listening well before I stopped talking (probably around the word, “intellectualize”). But the desired result of being left the hell alone happened. I would later tell friends this was my secret: Answer the question as honestly as possible because people don’t want to listen to my crap.
Thing is though I believe every word I said to that woman.
Like me, like you, my father wasn’t a perfect guy. I’m not here to talk about why or how anybody isn’t perfect but I am here to talk about why the second thing I did with my father’s gift was to buy a camera. And I’m here to tell you that my father loved some things.
My father loved to laugh, he loved a good pun, he loved lobster (which is to understate it but we don’t have time to get into the intensity of my father’s love for eating lobster), he loved to play cards, he loved to talk shit, he loved to smoke, he liked to drink, he loved to dance a jig, he loved his family, and he loved to wander about the lost parts of the world in search of amazing things. That last piece is of course where the camera comes in.
When I was real young my father would come home from a midnight shift at the factory and take us (I think it was just my brother and I) up to the escarpment forest by Brock University to pick mushrooms. There we would be in the morning’s cool, wandering over dewy grass through a fog that was gradually being lifted up and eaten up by the rising sun, trying to find the right mushrooms to bring home for my dad to fry up with butter and salt in the skillet.
My father also captained Sunday drives through the nether regions of Niagara with no particular destination in mind. Driving through the lost world of, “the Cuts,” the old canals in Thorold, or through the periphery of Pelham, Jordan, Winona, wherever. Anyplace that was no place my dad liked. On our Nova Scotia trips my dad knew all the lost spots. He always promised the potential of seeing a cougar or an eagle but rarely did we ever see much in the way of exotic animals. Mostly we drove around to the sound of tires chewing gravel, we saw sloping farm houses and sloping barns, we went from holding our breath to try to avoid breathing in the stink of acres and acres of fertilized property to lovingly breathing in ocean in all its’ earthy grandeur.
We drove and drove.
Funny thing is I don’t know how much I loved it at the time. Our family in a wood paneled Station Wagon chucking along off roads. But it stuck with me. Those quiet times driving around immersed in the world we were gliding past. These are some of my most vivid memories.
A long time ago, while out of work, I considered being an Alaskan fisherman. My friend had met somebody and ordered a book from a company that apparently could get you into the Alaskan fishing business. When I received the book and began to read about the life of the Alaskan fisherman I immediately realized the many ways a generally distracted, often clumsy, guy like myself could die. There’s a lot of spectacular ways a person can die on a fishing boat as it turns out and almost all of them seem tailored for my particular brand of dumb ass.
So that’s how that particular dream died.
But one thing the book had was a great quote from Jacques Cousteau, “Every morning I wake up saying, I’m still alive; a miracle. And so I keep on pushing.”
We don’t know why we are alive. How we came to be. Why we came to be. I don’t think we get to know. Heck, maybe there’s nothing to know. Regardless, while it’s easy to forget to be amazed it’s pretty damned important we remember to be.
So I’ll get a new camera. But my father’s real gift to me I realize is that with or without a camera I’ll keep seeking, I’ll keep finding, I’ll keep remembering. I’ll keep not knowing exactly why I love what I love and being entirely okay with that. I’ll keep looking for places that have, “Fruit, Snack, Umbrella, ATM Inside.”