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Through The Lens - Stephanie Renee
Jun 29, 2014

The camera loves me

I sometimes forget that I am a collector, a recorder of history.

It occurred to me the other day that I returned from my Caribbean vacation nearly a month ago, but had yet to post hardly any pics of the trip. So I sat down to dig through them, retouch them, and post them to Facebook this weekend. And after iPhoto finished loading on my computer, I realized that my DR pics weren't the only ones I needed to clean out of the library. I marveled at how many sets of photos I had stored there: from the past year or so of WURD events, social outings, vacations, and other cultural events I've attended. Those pics in no way account for the additional terrabytes worth of images and films I have stored on my external drive, exclusively partitioned for such things.

Clearly, there isn't too much that gets past my eyes or my camera.

I've been this way for decades. I don't remember how young I was when my parents gave me my first camera. This was long before the days of dime-store disposables or ever-convenient digital models. I'm talking about the small, plastic cameras that took real encased in an all-purpose body that didn't require manual loading or rewinding. 22mm, I believe. You did have to push a slide bar to advance each frame, but the film popped out easy as you please when it was done and went into an envelope at the drug store or a Fotomat for processing. (I'm really telling my age with that one.) By high school, I had moved up to a pretty snazzy metal-body Disc camera. Those ran on watch batteries that automatically powered the flash, advanced and rewound the film. Magic! And aside from the vintage Jiffy Kodak I intended to confiscate from my father (that he somehow misplaced when I left for college), I've been buying new equipment and chronicling moments ever since.

These days, the cameras of choice are smaller, lighter and more capable than ever. But equipment is only as functional as the person framing the shots and pushing the buttons. Not only do you have to have a conscious desire to present moments in visually-beautiful, mentally-interesting ways, but you have to be fully present in those moments to determine what you want to capture. I've seen way too many concertgoers hitting record on their phones and then getting busy waving their hands in the air as the performers command, forgetting that the end result is going to be some vertigo-inducing footage that no one wants to see. I'm all for putting down the electronics and absorbing the scene in real time, but generally I'm going to take a sec to document the who, what, where and when of it all first. My brain may not always pick up on the more intricate details, but my camera certainly does.

And, once the moment has been recorded, I'm also pretty meticulous about sorting, arranging and preserving it as well. The two years I spent back home in DC were important for so many reasons, not the least of which being that I had the time and inclination to scan and save every single family photo that had come into my possession from my elders passing away. When I moved back to Philly, I left those photos in plastic tubs in my basement, only to find out that mold from a series of heavy rains that had never properly drained had caused a hazardous situation in that house. I still haven't been back to my storage unit to see how many, if any, of those photos were salvageable. But I do know that they all live on the same hard drive I went digging through the other day. All those ancestors smiling at me, a me they may have never met, from the pixels on my computer screen.

I'd like to think that is precisely what the geniuses at Kodak, Polaroid, Canon, Pentax, Nikon and all of the other imaging companies had in mind when they brought their innovations to the industry. Preserving our collective history. Because the moments march on endlessly. The memories should as well.

Here is last week's playlist:

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In 2009 WURD launched a highly acclaimed symposium series called WURD Speaks, which gathers local, national and internationally renowned experts to share insights on issues ranging from health care, education and economic development to arts and culture and civic engagement.