My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.
For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.
– 1 Corinthians 13
Photography is not a mirror of the world. Mirrors mess with the parity of the world whereas the photograph preserves it. The Pauline anxiety reflects this fact: Seeing in a mirror is unlike seeing face to face in the sense that the mirror distorts and reverses the fundamental structure of the world: Its right-sidedness or parity. In A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick has one of his characters comment upon this remarkable fact: Before photography, no man had ever really seen himself the way other saw him. Looking in mirrors or reflective surfaces will only yield my reversed image, revealing a twin inhabiting a parallel but mirrored universe. Parity. It fucks you over.
But this is not really what I wanted to write about. Or perhaps it is. Seeing and being seen. Growing, maturing and how it will change your vision without necessarily making it better. Pauline truth is such a hard thing to arrive at. Anyway, today we know that it’s just a word. Truth, that is.
What I really want to write about is the experience of introducing my 6-year-old son to film photography. For some time, he had been observing my photographic activity and wanted to try it out himself. We started out lightly with instant photography. I wanted to keep his interest peaked and given the minimal attention/patience span of most 6-year-olds, instant photography seemed like a good way of arriving at the magical moment of the analogue without too many detours.
The experience was a great success. So great, in fact, that before long he wanted to take the plunge and try out real film. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical but nevertheless loaded up my Olympus Mju II: A real film camera that is quite easy to operate and handle. Quickly, I realized that my reservations were unfounded: He immersed himself completely in the process of taking pictures without ever once questioning the lack of physical evidence or the impossibility of reviewing the results of the photographic activity immediately. Simply taking the pictures was enough.
Finally, after running several rolls of film through the Olympus, he wanted to have a look at my medium format Yashica Mat 124G mounted on a tripod. Again I was sceptical as this kind of photography requires even more patience: Setting up the camera, framing the shot, focusing, metering, dialing in shutter speed and aperture, and then, finally, pressing the shutter release. I was wrong again. I learned the lesson never to underestimate the universal appeal of pulling levers and twisting knobs.
The first part of his photographic education thus completed, we went on a trip to a nearby bus depot, long since abandoned and scheduled for demolition. I brought my Yashica and he brought his Olympus Mju II. And we went hunting through the ruins, together and yet engulfed in our own separate worlds, silently following whatever leads our personal vision enticed us to follow. It was quite an adventure.
At one point we took a break from photographing and sat down among the debris. I asked him the question that had been lurking in my mind through all this, fueling all my reservations and skepticism: Doesn’t it annoy you that you can’t see the pictures right away? Don’t you miss the screen on the back of the camera? He answered me with the kind of child-like simplicity which brings red shame to the cheeks of older men: When I look at the screen, I can’t see the world.
Later, I developed and scanned the photographs from our trip. I had almost no idea of what he had been photographing as this time, consciously, I did not interfere with his photography. I was quite intrigued by the way his photographs deviated from mine. Where I had tried to capture grand scenes or striking vistas, concerned with atmosphere, compositional rules etc. he had simply sought out little things, objects that interested him and which I had completely overlooked. He had followed that basic Winograndian impulse, which I have previously written about here, and which I am starting to feel is the most honest and direct way of approaching photography. After having spent years learning and practicing technical and artistic principles, it forms an important reminder: To photograph to see what things look like photographed. And, browsing through his photographs, I thought about Winogrand and Wordsworth and Paul and children and men. And I wondered if there are not better things to do with our childish things than simply putting them away.