Digital compact camera ensures no more unexamined life

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Digital compact camera ensures no more unexamined lifeAccording to a certain school of thought, 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. But what if you put this proposition to your dog as he or she lay stretched out in front of the fire after a good meal of bones and with a walk and game of ball in the offing, to be followed by more bones and another snooze? Your dog, having never in its entire leaping, tongue-lolling, joyous, panting, adoring life submitted itself to even a nano-second’s self scrutiny, would look at you with that expression that respectfully suggested, 'Human beings are so dumb'.

But if the virtues (or otherwise) of the unexamined life are still in contention, what about the undeveloped life? Let me explain.

Last Christmas my wife gave me a marvellous, compact digital camera. Photographs of a remarkable clarity can now be brought up on the computer screen or turned into beautiful portraits in the local chemist using equipment that tells you to go and have a coffee while it gets on with the complex stuff. But it was not always thus. This camera is the final throw of our photographic dice.

Another Christmas much longer ago, my wife and I decided to buy ourselves a decent camera. Not one of those that required a Ph.D. to operate, but an idiot-proof little box with one button that you pushed when ready, and preferably a robotic voice that said at appropriate moments, 'Your hair is falling across the lens', or 'Do you really want a photo of your left foot?' We felt we should be recording significant stages of our lives but this project was routinely sabotaged by our old camera — a hefty, complicated machine made, I think, in France. By Daguerre.

Does that sound right? It was too heavy to lug around, it had a shutter that moved with the speed of a roller door and was twice as noisy, and the pictures would have been fine if given Turneresque titles like, 'Rain and Fog at Midnight,' or 'Standing Figure Obscured by Hailstorm.'

So, into the Singapore Duty Free we swept during a rushed 40-minutes parole from QF9 en route to our new life in London. We browsed, negotiated, decided. And suddenly there we were, owners of a compact, lightweight, fully automatic recorder of life’s significant stages. With a camera case thrown in and a complimentary film, the whole package cost only about two or three times as much as we would have paid in Melbourne, so we were thrilled with a piece of shopping which, for sheer canniness, could only have been improved if we’d bought the genuine Rolex offered at a reduced price with every camera.

Digital compact camera ensures no more unexamined lifeIn the ensuing years during which we lived in the Northern Hemisphere, you wouldn’t quite have called us paparazzi but we were very strong on the shutter. Statues, cathedrals, France, portals, each other, London, fields, Italy, flowers, spires, Germany, vistas, me (staring enigmatically through some medieval embrasure), her (draped along some stone wall that was forever Devon), kids milling, poking faces at the camera, all passed before our roving and insatiable lens. As each film clicked on its last frame, with every now and then an exciting bonus shot or two squeezed in at the end, we would replace the spool in its black plastic canister, put it in a special bag and tell each other we’d take them all to the shop tomorrow/next week/soon/whenever we had a few quid spare for a swag of developing.

And so the little canisters of film piled up in their bulging, special bag. Years and endless whirrings of lens and shutters passed. Young children grew from smiling pudginess to recalcitrant six-foot-two inch teenagers; older children married and made us grandparents; we returned to Australia with the undeveloped films constituting a significant part of our luggage and attracting the prurient fascination of customs. Most weeks we’d resolve to begin developing them — 'just two or three every now and then.' Only when our dog, the one with the unexamined life, discovered them and decorated several spools with tooth marks — a phenomenon that reduced the man in the photo shop to wild-eyed incredulity — did we become serious about getting them processed.

We never did though. As time passed, the experimental developing of a random few roles revealed that it was now impossible to agree what they were photos of. 'That’s Prague', 'No, no, it’s Paris'; 'That’s the Thames', 'It’s the Danube'. Better to start again in the 'just-point-it-and-look-at-the-screen' digital age. Better still, perhaps, to 'remember' fantasies of black hair unstreaked by gray, pre-menopausal verve, romantic hideaways and brilliant sunsets in a European wonderland unglimpsed by even the smartest automatic lens. Ah! The undeveloped life!



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Existing comments

Cannot agree Brian, I have a problem with the digital image. It always asks me to 'maximise the pixels', for which I read the Gremlins or those icongraphers invented by Terry Prachett. Great workers,but unable to record the moment accurately.

Jock McQualter | 22 September 2007  

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