All of my adult life, for instance, I have sought out apartments or houses that had some historical age to them. When in graduate school, I did not have an apartment that was younger than eighty years old. Granted, the plumbing in my last grad-school apartment frequently dumped all of my upstairs neighbor’s bath-water directly into my closet. All the same, I would have rather lived there than in one of the shiny, identical mego-complexes that dominant the U.S. landscape these days. My old, mildew infested apartment had character – Character! That should be worth a little black-lung disease.
Moving to East Texas made living in a historical place much more difficult. Texans seem to hate things that have some age to them. Still, I found houses that were part of the “historic district” of our community. Most Europeans would laugh to know that 1940 qualified as a “historic” district. Beggars, though, can’t be choosers.
Sadly, my current apartment lacks any character, warmth, or charm of something older. I moved into it during desperate circumstances, so we won’t talk about it.
My love of old things doesn’t just include the domicile. I have an unhealthy obsession with old dishes, old furniture, and Sir Ian McKellen. I tend to romanticize older objects and buildings. Without any logic, I presume that something older is better than something new. Much of this same type of knee-jerk thinking informs my presumptions that anything produced in New Mexico is far superior (but that is another entry entirely).
Don’t get me wrong, though, I don’t romanticize the past or have some bizarre desire to live in another time period. Being a historian, I know life in the past suuuuuuucked compared to life today. Who, in their right mind, would say, “Yeah, transport me back to the nineteenth century. Indoor plumbing? Don’t need that. Electricity? Why would I need to see anything at night? Access to pork that won’t give me triginosis? I am sure that my digestive system could adjust. A nation free of legalized slavery? Bahh – Who needs to think about human rights when hoop-skirts were in fashion?”
No, my love of the old is not about wanting to recapture a fabricated, mythical past. Rather, I like old things because they are tangible links to the past, both the good and the bad. Old buildings and objects participated silently in generations of lives. Those objects that survived are mementos of untold loves, fears, hopes, and betrayals.
So, why do I bring up my penchant for the old? Consider this entry a desperate cry for help. My
I adore my camera. It is a 35MM Pentax Spotmatic SLR screw-mount camera. I don’t own a digital camera, but instead romanticize the celluloid images produced by the Pentax. My father bought it while on leave in Japan during his Vietnam tour in the Navy. It is older than I am. How did I inherit this relic? Because my sixty-year-old parents upgraded to digital. The universe can’t possibly think that it is natural for the elderly folk to be more tech savvy than a 31-year-old gay boy.
I come up with all sorts of fabrications to justify my clinging to this camera. “You know,” I say, “film produces much more aesthetic and accurate images.” Just what do I think I am photographing? Time Magazine hardly bangs on my door to print pictures of my nephew’s eighth birthday. Truth be told, I don’t have the aesthetic eye to really know the difference between digital and 35MM prints.
This fear and resistance to digital only hinders my life and makes it much more complicated. I am actively hurting myself, people. Help me!
A digital camera would give me instant satisfaction. It’s anybody’s guess what types of images will come out of the film camera. My Pentax is big, bulky, and unwieldily. Sometimes I need to hire a Sherpa just to lug around all of its accessories and lenses. Nothing on this camera is automatic. By the time I adjust the shutter speed, aperture, flash angle, and focus, I probably could have just used charcoal pencils to draw a picture.
More and more, taking photos with the Pentax makes me into a spectacle. My friends rightly mock my luddite ways with statements like, “Wow – Does that produce daguerreotypes?” or “When will we get these images back? Two years from now?” or “Gee, do we need to sit still for the next hour while the film is exposed?”
Yesterday I attended a social event with some friends and colleagues. To capture the moment, I brought along the camera (See my To Do List below). When I asked a waiter to take a group photo, he looked at my camera and said, “Wow, you are old school. Do they even sell film anymore?” Yeah, he was a smart-ass. He might have had a point, though.
If you are reading this, send help. GayProf must join the twenty-first century. Perhaps by the time I move to Boston I will invest in a digital camera.
In the meantime, I must come to terms with the real reason I love the Pentax. Yeah, it has family connotations. Yeah, it is quickly representing a by-gone era of photo-making. More than all of that, though, the Pentax makes it easier for me to pretend to be Peter Parker.