LOOKING AT, LOOKING FOR
She sits right on my desk. Peering at me just this way, day after day. My niece. She’s concentrating really hard because she’s taking a picture of herself. Or trying to. We’ve given her one of those cool little cardboard, throw-away cameras on a special trip to an amusement park and it’s been a great day and she’s taken a bunch of pictures of the sidewalk and people’s butts because they are at eye-level for her, but now, on the drive home, she’s thinking that if she turns that camera around and braces it on the carseat, she just might be able to take a picture of herself. Wow. So this is her pressing the button, wondering as she does so what’s going to come out. Because this is back before we could hold phones up and look at the result instantly. Back when photos were invisible, magical. You pressed the button. You mailed a strange metal capsule away, or handed a cardboard camera to some guy in a drugstore. Then you went home. You waited. Then an envelope came to you by mail or your mom drove you down and that same guy at the drugstore handed you an envelope full of prints and that was how, days later, you found out what happened when you pressed the button.
What I love about this picture is that she’s too absorbed to be self-conscious. Sheer thinking comes straight through the lens. Unposed. Poorly framed. Snap. Shot. She looks out at me every morning, though, of course, she’s not looking at me, she’s looking for herself. She reminds me to do the same when I’m writing. To look for things intensely. To concentrate. To figure things out. To restore the invisible in the process. The magic. Not foofy, fairy-dust magic, literal magic. Where-the-hell-did-that-come-from? magic. She reminds me to press the button. To capture moments without worrying about what I might be getting. To write on faith and then let go of it and then wait. Wait for things to develop. Go away for a while and come back and open the envelope and see what came through the lens. See what I was looking at while I was looking for. With any luck, there might be a few pictures in there, a few captured moments that tell me something as clearly and truly as this one my niece made.
© i.e. ideas expressed 2011