October 25, 2009

Rachel & the Camera Epiphany

It was a lovely night, a small celebration for Tizita and Eyerusalem. The air was rich with scents arising from the pot filled with our Ethiopian dinner. Soon I gravitated outside to the party in the warm, inviting West Coconut Grove yard. The girls, dressed in their Ethiopian garb scampered around as Isaac, gave strong instructions about the dangers of a fire pit, as he stood much too close! Years ago with a camera always in hand, I would see a million shots to capture on such an auspicious occasion. But on this night, I just drank it all in as I greeted Rachel, my daughter's childhood friend. A girl I just adore!

Before long, I could stand it no longer and I rooted through my purse for my small automatic camera stashed away for times like this. I immediately started snapping pictures.

“Mrs. Hammond!! I cannot believe you have that camera!! I thought you would have a real professional camera by now” Rachel was serious.
“What’s wrong with that camera?” Michael chimed in “I have the same camera, it takes great pictures Rachel!” he defended.
“No, no…You don’t understand, Mrs. Hammond is like a professional! She takes fantastic pictures, you should see them! Get your good camera, let her take the pictures here at the party, she’s amazing!”

At that moment, crawling under the table did not seem appropriate for a woman of my age, so I just laughed at her. But Rachel wanted to know what had happened to me?? She was very serious and I had no answer. Recently I had been flipping through Facebook finding pictures posted by my girls' friends, pictures taken by me, wonderful posterity shots of happy high school friends. Why did I stop?

My last good camera was lost at a wedding and I never replaced it. I had been busy working and left it somewhere that fateful day. No one at the church seemed to know what happened to it. I felt so irresponsible; my cameras had always been gifts from my husband. Then digitals came out. No, I wondered, what WAS the reason I had given up photography? It wasn’t just loosing my camera. No..... somewhere along the way I shifted to enjoying other people’s talents; people with more ability, particularly my daughter’s. She was becoming a very proficient photographer. We could talk for hours on the phone as I milled through her pics on line. In next few years two more of our daughters showed great interest in photography and were taking exceptional pictures, not to mention the new art form of altering photos to bring about incredible artistic effects.

But I pushed the questions aside until the morning at Government Center. I had passed the sculpture "Rhythm of the Train" many times; but this particular day, I stopped to read the information. Yes! ...and to take a few shots! Pulling out my iPhone with over 1400 pictures on it, I started snapping! Then I caught this shadow on the pavement! I could not stop laughing, it seemed ridicules! Me, capturing the world on an iPhone!

"That’s it!! I am saving for a camera, I love this too much!!" And I think I truly understand the wealth of pictures, even those cheesy pics I used to take of people lined up at a celebration! I always used to say "There are good pictures or there are pictures for posterity, and on a good day you get one that is both!" They tell stories. These stories came to mind.

I once was invited to a baby shower for a girl I had met while volunteering at a pregnancy center. She had come from South America to visit a relative. While here she had fallen in love and become pregnant. The boy had long abandoned her and her family told her not to return home as she would shame them. A social worker from a church took an interest and this girl blossomed under this committed lovely woman’s nurturing. As Elaina opened each gift at the shower that night, the giver/givers would stand next to her for a picture. I thought this a little strange, and the only English speaking person close by was a young girl. She explained it was a custom but for this baby it was special;
“The pictures will go in a book for the baby so he will know he is welcomed into the world, that we are waiting for him. He will know we love his mother and and we are promising to stand by her” I wept driving home.

The other picture story...
“Miss, Miss! Does this look like me???” Our client thrusts a photo album from our former Gladstone Center for Girls on my desk as she drops her body on top of my papers. I study the pictures but then tell her,
“Hmmmm … Sweetie it looks a little like you but I really don’t know for sure, I wasn’t here back then, go ask Marta or Lucy” Off she goes to find some answers while I am thinking how sad it is that we are this child’s family, and we collaboratively hold her childhood memories. But she’s tenacious, she’s tough because she’s been to hell and back. Weeks later she returns excitedly, carrying two pictures in her hand.
“Miss!! This is me!!” We look at them together discussing her hair length, who else is in the pic, what they were doing… but mostly we just celebrate her, her value, her power, her beginning, even if she was 5 and living in a shelter.” I don't weep when she leaves, I cannot think of her losses, I just go back to work, happy she has found a picture!

Yes Rachel…I do need a new camera, maybe not professional, but I need to see my world through a lens again, and feel that rush of capturing something real. I need to capture the beauty of people I love, of kids who have lost their childhood and yes Rachel I need to take pictures of your sweet baby!! Thank you, thank you for asking what happened!!!

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