Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Doing Due Diligence

I suppose it's like an addiction, an urge one can't quite control, like when you seem to have gained the upper hand, success seems but at hand, and BAM! you fall back seemingly at the weakest moment, when your guard is down, least expecting it. Of course, I'm talking about something most everyone can relate to, that being walking (innocently enough) into your neighborhood craft store (Hobby Lobby in this case) and ambling by the craft boxes, stopping and examining them in closer detail, then finally deciding one of them might work just fine as a pinhole box camera.

Yes, that's right. Another pinhole box camera. I need another camera (pinhole or otherwise) like Carter needs pills, like I need another hole in my head (hey - neat idea for a pinhole camera ... oh, never mind), like a junkie needs another dirty needle. A bit off-color imagery, that, but you get the drift. I am, after all, catching up with the "Breaking Bad" series on Netflix.

Just the other day I found myself, innocently enough, in a thrift shop (innocently enough, like an addict innocently enough shows up at the local shooting gallery "just by chance," innocently enough like an alcoholic "just happens" to wander into the corner tavern), wandering the aisles overflowing with the residue of other's discards. I made a determined effort not to look too hard for any hard cases that might contain typewriters (lucky for me, none were to be found) but I did "just happen" to wander over to a metal shelf full of crappy old plastic point-and-shoot cameras. Ten minutes later I was standing in the checkout line with an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom camera, silver in color, mint condition (I expected there to be scratches and other blemishes like most of the other cameras in the bin, but this one was pristine, inside and out, including the light seals around the film door). And so I came home from my trip to Hobby Lobby and the thrift store with the fixin's for another pinhole camera, and also another film point-and-shoot.

We've been consolidating my "junk" into one master office, my wife and I have, such that the rest of the house won't look as much like a thrift store or half-way-house for vagrant photographers. And, in order for the office to not resemble too closely a tornado-struck flea market, we have to, in the parlance of those more skilled at getting rid of stuff than I (code-word for "not pack rats"), pare down, simplify, create order from disorder. It's like cutting off part of your arm, this getting rid of stuff.

Just last night, as my wife and I were putting the finishing touches on the office, she recommended that I find some cute little storage bins for the bookcase, within which to put my small doodads and whatnots taking up space, and that I make sure there were "accents" that matched the room's paint job. Whatever those are.

Of course, a good place to look for "accented" designer storage boxes is at places like Hobby Lobby. So you can immediately see the problem here, can't you? And so the cycle continues.

I have a friend who's going through a rough time. His business failed, his house and car foreclosed and repossessed, his family having, for the most part, abandoned him. And tomorrow he's set to lose a lifetime of material possessions when his storage building, of which he's months behind on rent, goes up for auction. He's going to lose a life's-worth of collecting material possessions, like high-end kitchen ware and rooms full of furnishings.

As heartbreaking of a loss that losing a lifetime of stuff can be, he also is set to lose things harder to replace. Albums of family photos; memorabilia from his father's military service; his own birth certificate and social security card (what's all this talk about identity theft in the news? In this case the theft is court-mandated!) And file drawers of client records from a failed mortgage real estate business that he's required, by federal law, to maintain for seven years. All of it, gone.

Our stuff, we hang onto it like an appendage, a vestigial organ we've somehow grafted onto our bodies in some half-failed mad scientist's experiment. As mobile of a society as we claim to be, most of us are hardly capable of conducting a freewheeling migratory lifestyle, if for no other reason than our stuff, our house and our jobs.

Back to the pinhole camera-making fetish, I wonder if older cultures observed the same phenomenon, as if there could have been a fellow who was totally nuts about making flint spear points, for instance, like he just sat there, next to a pile of shards, chipping away at rocks all day. Perhaps he was an early entrepreneur of sorts, the proto-defense contractor of his day. Would he wander around, spy a certain shaped rock on the ground and think "hey, this would make a nice arrow head"? Would he haul another basket of rocks back to his cave or cliff dwelling, only to have his Significant Other eye him with disdain, giving him the silent treatment?

"All you ever do is come home with more rocks," she'd complain. "You should try coming back with some venison or elk, like the other men of the tribe." And off she'd saunter, to sulk for a while.

Of course, he'd feel guilt and remorse about his failed ambitions and uncontrollable urges. Until he decides to make better of it, go out and kill something to eat. Which requires, of course, a good spear point, perhaps the best one he's yet to fashion. And off he'd go, chipping away at his dreams once again.

I sort of wandered into the whole pinhole photography thing. It started back in the 1980s when I grew dissatisfied with color lab-processed slides and prints, deciding I needed more control over the process, and also having a real aesthetic liking for black and white imagery. So, I purposefully took a darkroom class and assembled the rudiments of a simple darkroom. But sometime afterwards I grew tired of the incessant desire for bigger, better, faster and sharper cameras and lenses (a seemingly endless quest that continues unabated to this day amongst the world of photo gear-heads), and somehow figured out that I wanted to make a pinhole camera. I can't remember to this day exactly how it started, but I do know that my very first camera was a cardboard craft box from - you guessed it - Hobby Lobby, the pinhole punctured in a piece of discarded aluminum pie tin.

While other people, who start out in pinhole photography with black and white photo paper negatives in simple one-shot box cameras, eventually mature into using medium and large format roll and sheet film cameras, I've decided to stick with photo paper negatives, having earned somewhat of a reputation for being the paper negative guru amongst the pinhole aficionados at the F295 pinhole photography discussion forum. This is all because I failed to graduate into something more sophisticated or capable, camera-wise, but instead purposefully embraced the simplistic limitations of the process. Still chipping away at spear points after all of these years, while in comparison, my peers are throwing around atom bombs.

This morning I heeded that little message affixed to my office bulletin board that says "morning light" and went out onto east Central Avenue with - you guessed it - a pinhole box camera loaded with paper negatives, and proceeded to make some exposures, capture a few photons, do due diligence to the memory of that early tool-making aesthete from long ago. Now my coffee is cold, my belly full, and I will saunter out of the Flying Star cafe into the summer's heat and sun to finish exposing the other three negatives, to feed that creative monster within, whose appetite refuses to be satiated. I guess that's a good thing.

(Written via AlphaSmart Neo)


Blogger Cameron said...

The rudimentary pinhole camera, combined with the subject matter on Central Ave., creates a vivid emotion of sadness of "days gone by". It is like looking back through the lense to an earlier era -- a time machine, as it were.

10:18 AM  
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4:39 AM  

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