Photos capture memories--when we take the camera

SATURDAY'S HERO

May 07, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Cameras can help you with your household chores. At least that is what the home repair books say.

Before you put a new light switch in the wall, you could, according to the books, take a snapshot of the old wiring with a Polaroid. If the wires get tangled, and if you do not get electrocuted, the snapshot will tell you what wire goes where. I should point out that this advice falls in the realm of home repair theory. In reality, my camera work is pretty shaky.

First of all, the family Polaroid snapped its last shot several years ago. One day, instead of spitting out striking photographs, the camera began spitting out sticky paper covered with goo.

I took the camera apart. Using rubbing alcohol, I cleaned the rollers that propelled the paper out of the camera. But the sheets of goo kept coming.

I called around and found out that fixing the camera would cost more than buying a new one. So I did nothing. Now I rely on memory, rather than photographic evidence, to know where the wires go.

I have also read about other ways to use a camera around the house, such as photographing your valuable furnishings. This would be done for insurance purposes. The photos would serve as a record in case these furnishings were washed away in a flood or purloined by a perpetrator.

I have not done much valuable-furnishing photography. But I did do some other insurance work. A few months back I snapped what I regarded as downright dramatic shots of water stains on a bedroom ceiling. The photos were going to prove, in case an insurance adjuster asked, that the roof had leaked.

Nobody ever asked. The insurance company took my word about the leak and authorized a repair. The ceiling was returned to its unstained state. Nonetheless, I now possess some remarkable ceiling-stain photographs that, in my view, are reminiscent of the artwork of Jasper Johns. No one else seems to share this view. So, rather than hanging in a prominent spot in our home, the "stain series" was stuck in a file cabinet.

Working with the kind of cameras that need their film developed in photo labs can be tricky. There is the problem, for instance, of distinguishing rolls of film that have been through the camera from rolls of film that have not.

Our household has problems in this area. Of the five rolls of film I dropped off at a photo shop recently, two turned out to be blank. Somehow these two rolls had made it out of their boxes, but had failed to make it into the camera.

Rolls of film that have traveled in and out of a camera closely resemble rolls of film that have never made that miraculous journey -- at least to my family.

The kitchen shelf that is supposed to serve as home only to "finished" film also ends up taking in impostor rolls of unexposed film.

Periodically I scoop up all the rolls that look ready for developing and drop them off at the photo shop. Then the drama begins. Will we get photographs or blanks? If we get 50 percent more photos than blanks, I regard the venture as a success.

Another problem of working with a camera is establishing who is responsible for carrying it to photo-worthy events. As parents of school-age children know, spring is filled with photo-worthy events. The other night, for instance, I was attending what I think was the 15th photo-worthy event of the month. It was after a baseball game and before a piano recital. It was a performance of the school choral ensemble.

Our contribution to the ensemble was not only sporting a good haircut; he also had a clean face and was wearing a coat and tie. He was surrounded by similarly polished, well-behaved kids. It would have made a great photograph.

Sitting in the audience, I turned to my wife and asked, "Where's the camera?"

"I thought you were going to bring it," she said.

"I got it ready. You were supposed to carry it," I said.

So there we were. The scrubbed kid was performing in the limelight. The proud parents were sitting in the audience. And the camera, loaded with film and ready to record this moment for posterity, was back home in the kitchen.

I remembered the explanation travel writer Paul Theroux gave of why he never took photographs on his journeys to exotic places.

The most lasting images, he said, are in the mind's eye.

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