Site Meter Peculiar Susceptibility: heft and hold shut your eye

Sunday, May 18, 2008

heft and hold shut your eye

Something changed for me the first time I looked at my world through a video camera. I've never been particularly good at remembering exactly when things happened. Sometimes I can piece it together based on cornerstones (many events in my life, for instance, are divided between Before Nora and After Nora), but really my memories are all kind of conglomerated.

I think this is partly why things like museums, archives, and libraries enticed me from a pretty early age - this notion of documenting things to tell stories to others, yes, but to your later self seemed like a good prosthesis to me.

It was my friend Sarah's dad who taught me first how to use a video camera. Cameras then (circa 1985) were heavy. It wasn't the easy eight ounces of metal and circuits and cables that comprise today's digital cameras—it was still the age of the Big. In the mid-eighties one wanted a ghetto blaster, not something called a "nano." It was Cadillacs and Jeeps, not smart cars and mini coopers. No. These things required a bit of muscle and a certain grasp on the skill of stability.

From a very young age, I watched classic movies, those films of the 30s, 40s, and 50s that some how or other always ended up telling the story of how to be a woman: when to demure, what contexts in which one should not wear one's gabardine, how to serve a Manhattan.

I can only imagine it was from one f these films that I got it into my head to walk across and back the room with Webster's Collegiate Dictionary on the crown of my head. I usually took some kind of a teetering, tentative sort of a path across the floor, arms never coming to a complete rest at my sides before they would leap back up to the edges of the book. In retrospect, it probably wasn't the best volume to have selected: it was heavy, thick, hard-covered, and, most importantly, its binding was broken, which made it slide around unreliable, some Buster Keaton spoof. But, at the time, it was the choice; I wanted desperately for it to lend a certain gravitas to the activity. You see, I was earnest even then. I was very keen to be taken seriously.

So, I had some degree of practice at stability. Nonetheless, video cameras then were heavy and unwieldy. You had to heft them up onto one shoulder and hold your neck just so, pressing one eye shut and the other to the viewfinder. It was a lot of coordination for a 6-year-old to manage.

Bob Cook was a natural teacher, storyteller, and community builder. These roles are perfectly exemplified in the way he taught me to use a camera. It was a method of connecting with people (could he tell how shy I was?) that seemed easier than holding a conversation. It was an initiation to and well-defined role within a group (documenter), a role that he often gave to any newcomers we happened upon. It was a way to approach our lives with a narrative orientation.

I've been recording things more these days. Clips are short (a drawback of digital recording) since I don't have an external hard drive and the quality is poor, but I have wanted keenly since Bob's death to make a better record of my days.

Here's Patrick at Real Art Ways the other night:

Here are the sounds of the majority of the spring evenings of my life:


Sarah said...

Don just reminded me that when he first met Aaron he had been given the given the camera to shoot the shopping expedition (Fish Fry time circa summer 2001). Welcome, you're a part of us. Take the camera and don't fuck it up.

Meghan Maguire Dahn said...


I think he gave the camera to Nora's Dave, too.

I also think that "Welcome, you're a part of us. Take the camera and don't fuck it up" will be my new approach to life.