For the first time, I went to Poland without my camera.
That statement will shock most of my friends, who can expect to find e-mail from Snapfish.com announcing “You’re invited to view my photos” in their inboxes every now and then. I travel, I take pictures — usually hundreds of them — and my friends know it. But not this time.
We’ve come a long way from the days when a seemingly innocent dinner invitation could lead to hours of forced viewing of the hosts’ vacation slides. (Then again, there was the time my relatives all but begged me to show my slides from Kenya, then proceeded to talk throughout.) The beauty of Snapfish is, you can invite people to look, at their leisure, and they may or may not, with no hurt feelings.
In fact, we’ve come a long way from slides. In the old days, you needed not only carousels of slides, but also a projector and a screen, or at least a more or less white wall. Then came videotape, then DVDs, and many photographers transferred their memories to the new media.
I have not, whether for reasons of cost or sheer negligence, and so I have not seen some of my best pictures — that Kenyan safari, my first trip to China — in decades. But I know where they are: in my book closet, packed in boxes from my last two moves, probably deteriorating.
I had long since stopped taking a camera on my visits to Florida. Nor did I take one to the Bahamas last spring, for what was, after all, a working trip. (Really.) “Will there be lovely photos of this trip?” asked one of my most loyal viewers, my college friend Ann Rittenhouse Martin. I’m afraid not.
The fact is, I’m not in love with my current camera — a Konica Minolta bought on eBay for my first trip to Wroclaw, long since discontinued, and not the top of the line. I bought this starter digital out of loyalty after a quarter-century with a beloved Minolta 35-millimeter SLR, which had been rebuilt twice and simply wasn’t worth it anymore. It retired, and I bought the digital for my first trip to Wroclaw in 2007, when everything in that 1,000-year-old city was new and fresh to me.
This summer was my sixth visit to Wroclaw. I’ve seen just about everything there, and so have my friends. They know what the Rynek, or market square, and Ostrow Tumski, the cathedral island, look like. They’ve see where I live, where I teach and where I swim. So this time I packed light, photographically speaking — my camera bag once weighed 12 pounds, what with two or three bodies, three lenses, a flash, batteries and film — and decided to do what journalists these days are expected to do.
On May 30, The Chicago Sun-Times, the 10th-largest newspaper in the United States, announced that it was laying off its entire photo staff of more than 20 and that henceforth reporters would supply pictures with iPhones. The announcement was roundly protested by journalists for both the perceived disregard for photographers and the impracticality of trying to report and shoot a story at the same time.
But if they can do it, why couldn’t I? In Wroclaw I’m not trying to report anything, just teach a little English. So on this trip I decided to follow The Sun-Times’s lead and rely on my iPod Touch, essentially an iPhone without the phone. My first iPod touch died last spring, to be replaced by a newer model — thank you, Groupon — with a built-in camera.
Normally when traveling, I shoot like a photojournalist, to document places and people and tell the story of my journey. Now, as journalism becomes less and less my world, I find myself shooting less like a journalist and more like a civilian. My online Wroclaw 2013 album, if I ever make one, will consist mainly of photos shot for utilitarian purpose (the aqua aerobics schedule at Wroclawskie Centrum Spa) or for specific people.
For example: the sail-shaped condiments holder on my table at Greco for Maureen, my sailing buddy; the Michiko Sushi menu for Michiko, my CUNY student last year; the portrait of the famous film director in Leslie’s extended family, on the wall of my local kino. Most of all, I was shooting for the friends from my practicum year in Wroclaw: the Rynek by night; a new plaza where a row of dingy kiosks once stood; the screen on the square for the annual New Horizons Film Festival, and the festival “beach” on Plac Solny; Le Bistro Parisien’s outdoor expansion; Mary’s “zipper church,” zippered no more. I e-mailed these, I hope, at reasonable intervals; last year an otherwise esteemed former colleague nearly drove me mad when he sent dozens of superb images from India, one by one.
In all I shot just 37 frames that were not immediately deleted. Only a few irresistible ones were for myself: a wedding party coming out of the Baroque university; the table at my party for friends and former students; witty posters for Polish cities (black cats for Kocie Gory, white dots on blue for Boleslawiec, home of the traditional blue-dotted pottery); the car of an English-language school, for future reference. I just couldn’t resist one more at the airport, where a large group of Poles, some in saris, was apparently seeing off a guru.
Does an iCamera compare with my old Minolta SLR? Hardly. I miss the control I had, the effects I could produce by manipulating shutter speed and f-stop. I have learned to zoom, just as I would on any web page, by moving my fingers on the touchscreen. Beyond that, though, the only artistic choice I seem able to make is horizontal or vertical. But then, neither of my Minoltas could e-mail photos instantly, or as instantly as the spotty public wifi in Wroclaw allows.
From a 12-pound camera bag to a mere slip of a device — but one that’s so much more convenient and immediate. Like everything else in life, it’s a tradeoff.
Photos supplied upon request.