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Making pictures

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
8 min read
Making pictures
As if by design, I'm starting a photography class and happen to be living in a home that's full of still life opportunities.
As if by design, I’m starting a photography class and happen to be living in a home that’s full of still life opportunities.

It’s quiet in the house. It’s just me and a sleeping Gibson, who occasionally lets loose a deep sigh, or shifts a paw from its resting place in her repose on the sofa. She’s been sick — again — or injured, it’s hard to tell which, although we’re rooting for sick since then another round of antibiotics will do their work and she’ll be back to normal. Sleep, I believe, heals, and she’s certainly getting a dose of that medicine while I plunk away at the keyboard and click away at files as they move from one place to another, the faint whirr of my laptop hard drive and old-fashioned-sounding click-rattle of my external hard drive as they trade information the only other sounds coming from inside the house.

I’ve been shooting digital since 2007. After never really shooting a camera much, my ex-husband bought a Canon DSLR and I shot with it frequently until the day I packed my law office files into a laundry basket and loaded my camping gear into the roof box of my Jetta and pulled out of the driveway.  While my divorce entailed a great deal of loss, that camera may have been the inanimate object I most missed as I started putting the pieces of my life together again. I had a little pocket point and shoot that I pointed and shot until one of my rock climbing adventures scrambled the little camera’s brain. I have few photos from that in-between time — most of the ones I do have, are from my friends’ cameras, and were it not for those, I’d have no photographic proof of that free, hungry, wild phase in my life.

When I started preparing for my Nepal trip in early 2009, an indestructible little point and shoot (cold tolerant down to 14 degrees) was one of the first essential gear purchases I made. I wanted so badly to take a “real” camera to Nepal, and knew I didn’t have the budget for it (and it just didn’t seem wise to take anything that may be potentially less cold-tolerant and less shock-resistant than myself with me for that particular adventure). So my little scuba-diver-looking point and shoot started going everywhere with me. Up and down mountains. Up and down rock climbs. On road trips and eleven hour flights involving passport stamps. And I’m grateful to my past self for having the judgment to spend my grocery budget on that little point and shoot, since the photos from my travels during that time still give me plenty of sustenance.

And then, in 2011, the techtonic plates seemed to slow. I’d found myself a nice stable job, with a nice stable paycheck, and I knew exactly what I’d do with my first not-earmarked paycheck: I knew I’d buy myself a camera. Early on in that job, I’d worked a tradeshow and toted the office’s Panasonic Lumix and it was love at first click. I didn’t love the photos: they were of outdoor gear, under fluorescent lights, with either too much or too little flash, and I didn’t even peek at the manual so I shot the entire show in widescreen. But I loved the camera. The feel of it in my hands, and the click of the shutter, its pancake lens — there was just something about it. I looked at a few other options, but the Lumix was it for me, and thus began my relationship with this finicky, not at-its-finest-on-automatic little camera.

The first photos I have from it are of Ryan, and of a huge old tree dripping with moss, from a very early on car bivy of ours, on our way out to our first backpacking trip together on the Washington coast. The photos are terrible and I love them because he’s wearing his Rainier t-shirt and I had it bad for him before that trip, but good god I had it worse for him after that trip. And we shot trees and paths and starfish and rock cairns and the ocean and each other and I had an inkling of just how much I may have hit the jackpot and I can see that in those photos, even the ones of the world around us.  And that first summer and fall together I snuck photos of him that I love.  Back then, he just smiled shyly when I pointed the lens at him.

Now, two years later, he makes funny faces when I pick up the camera.  We know each other so much better now; we’re no longer on our best, most charming, most attractive behavior at all times.  And my heart still skips a beat when he walks through the back gate after the work day and once in awhile I can catch him off guard through the camera lens, and sneak a shot of his now-relaxed smile, before he raises an eyebrow or stands on his head or otherwise converts my portrait sitting to an action sports shoot.

And I’ve had friends who shot film — now that I’m learning a little something, I’m guessing my friend and climbing partner Shawn was shooting slide film of our climbing trips, and some of the most beautiful photos in my stash are his.  Tuolumne.  Red Rock Canyon.  Smith Rock.  And that film, and his eye, and that lens even makes Vantage look like a dream of a destination.  But I never really took the time to ask him about his photography process — I was too busy seeking other types of wisdom at the time.  So years later, Ryan’s stories about his friend Deann put film on my radar, but I was still trying to figure out how to shoot my Lumix with any degree of consistency and style.  The camera has taken some nice images; but it reminds me of my second horse, Danny.  He wasn’t a babysitter:  he was a teacher.  I had to work for my learning with him, and I’ve had to work for my learning with the Lumix, and I’m only still a novice at it despite coaching and good advice from photog friends.

I’d always lusted over a macro lens setup, and never had an opportunity to pick one up.  One quiet night like this one, I clicked around and found a cheap Holga lens adapter, that would allow me to convert my expensive digital camera into a sensor with a shutter behind a plastic lens — and by so doing, open up my world to Holga lens accessories, including the object of my affection: a macro kit.  Yes, it’s a plastic lens.  But I figured, around $80 or so for an adapter lens and a variety of accessory lenses?  Heck – why not toss in the Holga itself, and shoot a couple rolls of film for shits and giggles.  For just over $100, I could try out a little bit of macro shooting, play with a toy camera, and have the $600 additional I’d have spent on the real macro lens I’d been eyeing to — I don’t know — adopt a puppy and sign up for puppy kindergarden with.

And the Holga adapter has been on the Lumix approximately three or four times, but I’ve lost count of how many rolls of film have wound through the Holga, itself.  And that lead to a risky eBay purchase on which I trusted my gut, that yielded a lovely antique medium format camera that my hands knew how to operate automatically, as if the knowledge was inherited since it certainly wasn’t learned.  Perhaps from my Grampa Ed, or by osmosis from the many photographers in my life.  And while we were having that camera serviced, why not have Ryan’s step-dad’s old 35mm cleaned up for us to play with as well?  And then instead of a yoga retreat, like I’d planned for this birthday, I’m signed up for a Black and White film photography class and my gift to myself was a light meter and camera bag that can haul three of the four cameras we’re now routinely shooting, and I’m finally starting to learn how to shoot my Lumix in manual modes, since the mechanics of the film cameras somehow made everything make more sense to me than the pages of manuals that came with my digital camera ever could.

Brace yourself for photo studies from school.  I’m already on a cliche depth-of-field flower photo kick, and about half of my shooting is of Gibson, since she may try to evade the camera, but she doesn’t intentionally make funny faces at it.  I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, been a writer.  And I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, been not-an-artist.  And I’m really enjoying the increasingly blurred boundary around the idea of being a storyteller, and the chance to allow myself a little bit of artistic experimentation, even if it seems silly or self-indulgent or hipsterific … which brings me to the short, sweet reason I sat down to write today (speaking of self-indulgent)…

I saw a few things this week that I wanted to share with you.  They are:

I Am an Object of Internet Ridicule. Ask Me Anything

I’d never identified with the label “hipster,” but my affection for Instagram, film photography, and record players is making me rethink my inattention to that subculture.  I loved this blog post by C.D. Hermelin: partly, because I just watched Before Sunrise for the first time, and thought, when the busker wrote the lovers a story, that being a story-writing busker would probably be a nice way to spend some time.  Partly also because of this strange place that I occupy, doing what I do for a living and seeing everyday how the good and bad of technology and connectivity and our instant interconnectedness operate in my life and the lives of those around me.  And I read this story on my iPhone on the bus, thinking about the old pink IBM Selectric in my dad’s old office, and how much I loved that typewriter.  So enjoy.

A Portrait of America, Today

Shot by 3,000+ high schools students, this is a breathtaking snapshot of life in each corner of America, today.  I’m blown away by the talent some of these kids possess, and the enthusiasm of others.

Bosom Buddies:  A Photo History of Male Affection

I loved this post the moment it loaded after clicking through from author Lissa Rankin’s Facebook page.  I thought, as I flipped through the photos, about how different my niece and nephew’s generation may see the world, growing up in an era where (at least in Washington) the wedding photos won’t all be of women in white dresses and men in conservative suits.  And I feel thankful to be surrounded by men who buck convention and share their affection for and with each other.

And if you’re not reading my friend Thom’s blog, and you enjoy words, you’ve really got to get on that.  Like, sit down with a nice glass of wine tonight, and start at the beginning and don’t stop until you’re caught up.

That’s it.  Gibson’s sighs are becoming more frequent, so it’s time for a brisk walk in the fresh cold air of now-Fall, with the leaves starting to crunch under my toes.  If you’ve got a favorite photo blog (or, blog that you love the photography on) I’d love to add it to my inspiration file, so speak up, will you please?


Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.