Having parked the car, we darted toward the entrance to the botanical gardens. Once safely inside, I realized my camera was still out in the car. The visit was not very long, and another day we would be coming back, so I had to borrow my partner’s cellphone to take a couple of images rather than to use my own familiar equipment. The sense of loss at the absence of a trusty tool like a camera is palpable; a sort of let-down or emptiness. Of course it is not a human default to go around equipped with a device for composing and recording images to print or to share. However, after getting deeper into this habit and way of seeing, step by step, it did stir some strange sort of mild anxiety. But what kind of anxiety comes from NOT being equipped to complete the creative experience of (1) catching your eye on something (colors in conjunction, textures and light, shadows and line; irony, majesty, simplicity or graceful elegance), then (2) composing the subject in mind’s eye, (3) engaging the optical gear to translate the envisioned composition into something fixed on film or photo sensor, (4) post-production tidying up and then sharing.
Maybe this anxiety comes from the broken process of culminating expression; being unable to put a vision into persisting form. When a transient pattern of light, subject matter, and shutter release come into conjunction, then the static picture remains eternally frozen so that it can be shared, compared, studied, or simply added to one’s collected works like a trophy or another breadcrumb on the trail that leads to better and better work. Alternatively, perhaps the sense of loss or void in one’s accustomed way of being in the cultural landscape comes from the usual feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction when the sequence of events culminates with the succinct sound of the shutter release. When there is no camera to engage the subject and place it into a frame of one’s own making, then there is no capture for the hunter of “decisive moments” or chaser of light. Still another possible source of anxiety about finding yourself with no way to document experience or punctuate the flow of events is due to the imagined power that comes from what a camera potentially can do. Leaving the capacity of recording a time-sensitive news event or its opposite, a timeless truth, customarily having a familiar picture-taker within easy reach has the potential of memory assist (in case you forget some important details of the place or subject), the ability to prove a condition by documenting it (e.g. minor car crash or other property injury), the capacity to record something for posterity (a group photo, an achievement), and the power to mark an insight or discovery you have made by long effort or instead by serendipity. Somehow there is a mental equivalency between seeing and comprehending; to see what the person means is to grasp the significance of the thing. The reverse also may be true psychologically: NOT to see (or by extension NOT to photograph) something of value or significance, perhaps, also means NOT to understand or hold the full meaning.
Whatever is at play the experience is undeniable: feelings of missing one’s trusty lens and a sense of loss that goes along with it. Happily this anxiety can readily be dispelled. Unlike the days of having to restock one’s film cassette and also pay for the photo-processing of the film or slides, now the digital workflow encourages generous shooting, selecting, and sorting. So this story can have a happy ending.