Sunday, May 21, 2006

GayProf, The Luddite

Being a historian predisposes me to liking old things. Or maybe liking old things predisposed me to become a historian. Whatever the case, I often resist the new.

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 obsession sick-fixation love of older things makes my life much more difficult than it really needs to be. My biggest example would be my camera.

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.


Elizabeth McClung said...

I like old things too - I have reading specs from the 18th century even though I don't need them to see - and until this year I had a collection of pentax lens' for a pentax camera I was going to day. I think that day went.

I have old glasses that the gas stations used to give away in the 50's and 60's and use them - being a luddite is cool - no matter what anyone says.

tornwordo said...

I'd be playing up the FREE inheriting part of it too, I mean, if I inherited that I'd milk it for all it's worth, "Yes, they don't make them like this anymore, a real photographer's camera, this."

I think old things are demonstrably better because you can look at it and say that it lasted this long so it must be good. With new stuff, you never know.

Alden said...

I ended up with my dad's old Nikkormat, which is as old as I am. It's kind of cool to take pics of my boys with the camera he first used to take pics of me.

And while it isn't ancient I've got more than enough character in my house, I'm sure I could lend you some. Lots of it. Coming up the side, into the windows, through the floors, behind the fridge...

Earl Cootie said...

I miss my old Pentax. It wound up in a pawn shop in Tulsa during some rough times. Nah, we won't talk about that.

Frank said...

I like old things, too. My dream is to live in a house filled with antiques. (Including, if I'm lucky, Sir Ian McKellan. *hehehe* I share that obsession with you, too.)

I've heard that a lot of professional photographers like to use old school cameras nowadays, too. They like the different quality of the pictures that come out of it. So you're not a Luddite, just a hipster! *LOL*

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say I want to live in that particular when, but sometimes I wonder if I was meant to be an eighteenth century British aristocrat.

Roger Owen Green said...

Can you get the pictures on your "ancient" camera made as digital images? I've been using a one-use camera; if I were to get a digital, I'd surely break it, or lose it, or accidentally drop it in the river. So, I get mmy pictures made into CDs, and then I can crop them.

I'm probably more of a Luddy than you are.

Anonymous said...


I haven't heard that word in a while. Boy, that's just a good example of the crappy engineering of olden days! Yeah it gave you two copies of the picture in one shot, but the two copies weren't even identical!

Few people could tell that, but my dad had some kind of Fisher-Price Viewmaster gadget that proved it - it even turned the imperfections into a neat 3D image! Go modern technology!

Anyway, you know, you can have both your classic cam and a new digital one. Then you can just choose which one you need to lug around at any given time: the lovely chereshed heavy bulky thing or the one that fits in your pocket.

Though sticking the Pentax in your pocket could create another intersting 3D image.

Margaret said...

Just in case you're actually looking for advice, here's some:

My husband is Old School (and a Real Photographer). I am a technophobe, but I hate lugging all the "real" camera crap along with me.

After much research, we bought a Nikon coolpix P2. We're both happy: it can be an easy point-n-shoot (for me), OR you can fiddle with it endlessly to get the "perfect shot" (good for real photographers, or those with Peter Parker fantasies). And it doesn't have to be a *replacement,* just a supplement. Just sayin.

dirk.mancuso said...

I too am still using the old school camera much to the chagrin of those around me. I just do not adapt well to all the new-fangled stuff.

Anonymous said...

Suddenly I feel compelled to amend my comment - instead of making I joke, I realize that I was thinking of stereoscopic Daguerreotypes.

Regardless, apologies if I offended any other Luddites out there. Early morning and snarky just doesn't work with me.

Kalv1n said...

I can totally relate to this. Actually, after spending a lot of time in a lab, and now not being able to do that anymore, I got so fed up with other people's processing of my film, that I just broke down and got a digital camera. I think the nice thing is that you can just keep taking shot after shot after shot. At least, I'm so rarely satisfied (usually 1 or 2 good pics a roll) that it helps me not feel like taking pictures is an impossible task. It's a sweet post nonetheless. And yes, old things do seem more precious somehow. Strange.

Anonymous said...

1. One of the virtues of a digital camera (it makes taking pictures easier) is also its vice: it alienates you from the process of capturing an image. To make good photos on a SLR you have to master (or at least understand) the physics of light and the chemistry of film -- how f-stops relate to shutter speed, or how Kodachrome 64 will make a picture look different from generic 100 speed print film. There's a pleasure in being a human integrated into the process. (It's why I drive a manual transmission.)

2. If you get a digital camera, you will never pick up your SLR again. I know.

GayProf said...

Anon: Yeah, I insist on manual transmission as well (Even in my 135hp Honda Civic).

Da Nator said...

I still use my Ricoh 35MM SLR from the 80s, and it's fine, but I'd actually rather use a digital. Sure, I spent years working in a photo shop and film school, but guess what?

1.) I barely remember how to handle a camera, so using my SLR just shows how senile I've become.

2.) The skills I do remember are obsolete - who, besides old-school art photographers, spends time in a darkroom, anymore?

3.) The anti-luddites won't even sit still long enough for me to take a group picture (much less a motion shot of wildlife), what with all the aperture adjustments and focussing I have to do.

4.) It's true - most photo shops don't even bother to make good prints out of your film, anymore. They run it through a machine on automatic as quickly as possible and don't even pay attention.

Too bad I can't afford a decent digital camera right now.

I'll tell you what: if you buy me one, you can come visit my 100-year old Brooklyn apartment (gas nozzles! period molding! period... dust!) and we can discuss Sir McKellan's finer points. ;o)

Anonymous said...

Hi Prof! Secret Admirer here, again. BTW...I posted a comment on "So I Like Superman" for Michael's hate mail, and you did too...that really thrilled me that we were "on the same page". Sigh.

Anyhoo...some old things are good, and some new things are good. Those smart-asses who rib you about the camera are too hung up on instant gratification. Case in point; many years ago (pre-digital) I vacationed with some friends, and while they took pictures with a 110 Instamatic I took mine with a Yashica SLR. They joked a lot about the time it took for me to get a shot, but they wasn't laughing when they saw the photos I got back compared to their grainy and miserable snaps. And they both borrowed the negatives to get their own sets of my prints. Enuff said! I don't know if digital pics look better than "analog" photos, but I do know that I prefer photos processed by a photo lab to a sheet ejected from an ink-jet printer.

Incidentally, I know another historian who also loathes anything architecture, contemporary art, anything at all. Collects old books, old prints, old Civil War era newspapers, etc. So yes, being a historian does lead one to that frame of mind, it would seem.

Sarah Can said...

As a wedding photographer, I shoot both professional digital AND film. There is something about black and white film that you just can't get with digital... even with the best Photoshop filters. There is character. I think it's the character that you like in the film.

Also, while instant gratification is cool... there is something about the excitement of tearing into a new envelope of prints that have never been seen before! It's like Christmas. It's something I miss.

I suggest that you take your transition slowly... bring two cameras. Both your old one and a new digital. Each has something to offer that the other just can't do. Haha, and if you want help picking out a digital camera that would be just-right for you, leave me a post.