Zoom In, Zoom Out

When I went to college, I remember purchasing a digital camera for the first time. Its functionality was pretty basic, but all I really wanted to do with it was create brag-worthy content for my brand new Facebook account. Of course, I also had some serious archival reasons for wanting to photograph my first year; I was acutely aware of the fact that my college experience would be a precious moment in my life that I would want to remember in detail. Nostalgia tends to dictate a lot of my choices, and I could somehow foresee that I would want the visual data to trigger those memories.

So, for the first few weeks, I used the camera all the time. I took pictures of my dorm room, my lecture halls, the views from different parts of campus. I still have a picture of one of my friends posed in my dorm room with hands on his hips and my bright pink laptop case planted atop his head.

As the weeks wore on, I stopped carrying the camera with me. I abandoned it in part because I befriended fellow photographically inclined types; I could count on them to take the pictures and do the archival work. However, I think a part of the camera abandonment had to do with my own insecurity and frustration with taking the photos. I never took particularly GOOD photos (in spite of my attempts to angle the camera towards the sky and get some shots of some angles and skylines). In fact, I often took bad photos – many, many bad photos – and I didn’t have the patience or motivation to become a better photographer on my “Coolpix” camera. So that was the end of that.

Do I regret not taking more photos? This question is the stuff of greeting cards and teenage Tumblr pages, I recognize, but it is one that confronts my regrets about agency. I often regret not DOING more, saying more, or being involved more. And as I’ve been feeling a bit of that familiar surge of nostalgia, that longing for a time past, I do – yes – I do sometimes regret that I didn’t take more photos.

Part of what makes a good photographer is the ability to find one interesting thing to focus on and to take dozens of pictures of that one wonderful thing. With this in mind – and my own mild pangs of regret for not dedicating myself to archival efforts more fully – it is my goal to become more like a good photographer and not be afraid to take many metaphorical “shots” of that which interests me. I am learning to be patient with the tedium involved in looking at the same thing many times over. But I think that patience is part of what makes a researcher skilled at her craft.

I may no longer have my digital camera, but I’m feeling increasingly prepared to equip myself with the right equipment – and philosophy – to keep myself moving, zooming in and out and finding the focus I need to accomplish this writing thing I keep talking about doing. At least until then, I can keep taking snapshots and collecting stories.

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