You know how someone says they bought something without thinking–an impulse buy. This was the opposite of that. I agonized the whole month before and after Christmas about which camera to buy. I e-mailed my photographer friend, Curt Brinkmann about which digital camera would be best.
After much deliberation, I decided on what I was sure was just the right camera. Even though it was the best logical fit something about it didn’t feel quite right. I only had it two days before I realized that it was just too much camera for me. Even if it fit in my head, something wouldn’t settle in my heart.
A little defeated after all this deliberation, I returned it to the camera store, only to find a man there for a “buy back” program. “We buy back old cameras,” he said. “Just bring them in and we’ll give you cash.” Hmm, I thought, now this is interesting. After more talk I learned of a repair guy in Omaha who refurbishes old cameras. “Give him a call,” he said handing me the phone number. “For a fair price, he’ll bring any camera back to life.”
He’ll bring your camera back to life–something about those words enchanted me. I’m a sucker for a fixer-upper, remodel show. My Grandmother Nancy had gone to college in her retirement years, “Get all the school you can,” she’d said. “They can’t take that away from you.” She had taken photography. Her fancy film camera sat in my mom’s basement, unused and broken.
Meeting the camera repair man over the phone was different from what I’d expected. He wasn’t just planning to fix the phone, he wanted to understand the camera and what it was to me. Maybe this would annoy a lot of people, something taking longer than it needed to–but something about his curiosity felt so genuine, that I spoke to him for almost a half an hour. His questions felt so human, said in a slower, more thoughtful pace, more like he actually cared, more like an encounter with something real.
I told him about my grandmother, Nancy. I told him about the photo of irises that she took that hung on our farmhouse wall. I told him how she loved chocolates and seasonal peppermint ice cream, and how she gave the best grandma hugs. How Santa’s handwriting always looked like hers. . .
When my camera came back, fixed up and functional, I couldn’t help but think of how my eye was looking through a lens that hers had, that we were somehow taking photos together through space and time.
I took one roll of film and then screwed up the rewind process. I opened the back without having the film totally rewound, destroying a number of pictures that I will never see. But a few, the ones on the start of the roll came through, developed. Their grainy imperfection was perfect to me. There was something about remembering the moments instead of trying to perfect them in the moment, taking one digital and then another. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a luddite. I still use my phone camera and still use filters on Instagram, but it has been such a cool experience to take film photos with Grandma Nancy’s camera this summer, to wait to get them developed, and to hold the few that turn out in my hands.
Two of my photos that came out–after weeks of waiting for development–are of my kiddos. I love how the actual light of my son wearing that awesome fedora (that he insists on wearing to so many places) is captured. I love that I have an old-timey shot of my daughter in her young fierceness–kissing her bicep at the lake. If only all grown up women could get another dose of the unashamed confidence they had in moments as a young girl.
The next time I set out to buy something, probably on Amazon or somewhere fast, I pray that I might slow down a bit, ask myself if I have something at home that might work–something that could come to life again with a little time, a little love, a little Fixer-Upper spirit. I know I don’t have time for it, but I know this summer that the time I wasted fixing up Grandma’s camera wasn’t wasted at all. With a little love and spit-shine who knows what treasures might be waiting in our homes? Who knows how much more we might truly enjoy our things, how much we might realize how rich we’ve been all along.