Aesthetics

An Ode to my Nikon FG

Sometimes, it feels like centuries since I was growing up–not so much in the passage of time, but in the way things were done. Waiting for a phone call meant circling the kitchen for hours on end, possibly toting the boxy cordless down the hall and back for as long as it didn’t ring. Recording a school show or family holiday required a giant contraption that only my father was equipped to handle, resulting in innumerable home movies that would make you seasick just to watch. Vacation photos needed to be taken to the local photo lab and picked up days later, shared with family at gatherings and holidays sometimes months after the actual trip had ended. We have boxes of seemingly ancient Kodak prints filed in flimsy plastic albums that came free at some of the nicer labs. Now,  I can instantly show the world which latte I ordered today or get instant feedback on which dress to buy. It’s absolutely mind-blowing to think of how far we’ve progressed in just a handful of decades.

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My grandfather was something of a technological revolutionary, working on computers back when they were the size of entire buildings, so naturally he was the first person I knew to own a digital camera. For my 16th birthday, he gifted me with a boxy Hewlett-Packard point-and-shoot, equipped with one whole megapixel and then some, less than most phones come with now. At the time, it was a novelty. Rather than waiting a week or more to see evidence of the misadventures of my friends and classmates, we could view them instantly on the little LCD screen. If someone’s nose looked too big, or someone’s hair was blown unflatteringly, we could delete it and snap another. I could collect them on my hard drive, no physical clutter acquired. But then, in the Great Desktop Crash of ’04, I lost them all.

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I can’t blame that crash for the attitudes I developed towards photography afterwards. It was also the social conditioning that came with our march towards Instagram and Snapchat that led me to feel like photography was disposable, something trivial and without consequence. I never took cameras on vacations, choosing to write down my experiences or commit them to detailed, purposeful memory. The camera was cumbersome, and I would rather enjoy living in a moment than stopping to dig a recording device out of my purse, boot it up, and fiddle with the settings until I trusted it to capture the scene. When my last digital camera died in 2012, I never bothered to replace it.

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Then, I found my dad’s old Nikon. Specifically a Nikon FG, with a metal body and several glass lenses, heavier than any camera I’ve ever held before, with a vintage Mickey Mouse strap. Both the camera and the strap were an engagement gift from my mother, after months of researching stats and performance and consumer reports. Sitting forgotten in the basement for years, the battery had died and the roll of film inside had expired, but it was otherwise flawless. And now it was mine. Oddly, there’s something comforting about its weight, the way the aperture clicks into place, the heavy thunk of the curtain when the shutter is hit. Rather than simply capturing a moment, taking the picture becomes its own moment. Each photo documents not only what is in front of the lens, but the ritual that accompanies it: determining the aperture size, focussing the lens, checking the light meter, setting the shutter speed, hitting the shutter, advancing the film… The roll becomes a meditation, a series of practiced movements that produce a sense of oneness with the scene. A zen in which I am merely part of the setting, and the camera is the organ by which I can achieve it. Every exposure is precious, an experiment in light and form, waiting to be revealed when I wash away the excess silver.

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When I open the reel and look at the film for the first time, there’s an anxiety released with it. The negative images feel so alien, not at all like the images I thought I took, and sometimes even after printing I don’t remember the picture in front of me. It’s not exactly how my eye remembers it. But it’s almost always how my heart recalls it. A sense of placid calm, a dreamy anticipation, a distant sadness, these are the real subjects. More than any model or flower or mountain rage, the feelings we get from them are the reason to hit the shutter.

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Since my adventures with the Nikon, I’ve amassed an arsenal of old cameras: a Canon Rebel, a Minolta 110 Zoom, a reproduction Diana F+, each producing a totally different sort of image. But when I pack my bag for adventures unknown, it’s the Nikon that finds its way inside. Our love affair isn’t over yet, and despite the age gap between us, I suspect we have many years of tenderness before us. I might find myself out with another camera on occasion, but nothing has been able to replace the feeling I get with my Nikon in-hand.

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Metamorphosis

New Skies and Uncharted Paths: the Magic of New Years

Oh, what a ride it’s been! We’re closing in on the final hours of 2013 and in just a few more days we’ll be staring into the glittering newness that is 2014. These post-holiday days are perfect to sit back and reflect on the lessons we’ve learned, the goals we’re going to set, the places we’ve been, and where we want to go. For some, New Year’s Eve is a time to celebrate the passing of the old year with friends, drowning fears and anxieties at the bottoms of ever-full glasses; for others, it’s a chance to ring in the new year with a romantic flourish, staring into the eyes of a lover or counting down the minutes to midnight to fall into the arms of a pretty stranger. To me, New Year’s Eve is one of the most magical nights of the year, so thick with potential that intentions hang in the air in front of us. It begs for contemplation, divination, and meditation.

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2013 was a year of facing truths. Challenges were posed and met head-on, revealing strengths and talents we never knew we had. We found our way out of the darkness, learning how to shine all on our own, banishing shadows of doubt from our path. Not everything we saw was beautiful–we’ve witnessed true ugliness at times, but as long as we learned to cast it aside and look for the lesson, nothing was in vain. We’re stronger people for the experiences we’ve had. 2013 reopened wounds for me–it was full of fear, sadness, and profound loss. But it taught me how to grieve, it strengthened my resolve, showed me that I have stores of courage. It taught me that I am a dazzling, magical creature that rises out of desolation and regenerates endlessly. 2013 brought back my magic. I won’t let that magic slip away in 2014. I plan on reading every tome that falls into my path, seeking new knowledge and stretching my magical muscles regularly using new and exciting methods and tools. I will tune my instrument, add to my repertoire, and build my understanding of my personal universe and how to control it.

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In 2013, I learned how to be a World-Weilding Web Warrior and met fabulous friends both new and old in the City of Roses. I traipsed after ghosts and gods and visited one of my oldest friends in the ever-magical Crescent City. This year, I plan to take more of America by storm, drinking in new and different skylines and sunsets, but I also plan on expanding my literal horizons, bringing myself to the shores of new and foreign lands. I want to breathe the air of my ancestors, walk the same ground as my beloved’s forebears, feel their wind, learn their magic, sleep their nights. I want to smell every perfume in Paris and Milan and taste every tea in London and Kiev. In 2014, I firmly intend to make this happen. My wanderlust has been too long unsatisfied, and 2014 is going to be my Super-Sagittarian Gypsy-Witch Wonder Year full of new skies, uncharted paths, and changing winds.

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So while will ring in the new year surrounded by beautiful strangers in festive streets or huddled with close friends in dark clubs and bars, I’ll be lighting candles and flipping cards, setting my intentions and channeling all my positive energies to make 2014 the best year yet. Not just the best year, but the Wonder Year…

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Metamorphosis

An Anniversary of Being

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Ten years ago, I sat at a table in a small cafe surrounded by three generations of my close-knit family. As I stared into the candle that flickered between us, I knew something was brewing–I was turning 16, and I knew it was going to be a big year. Things had been changing so quickly for me, in my home, in my life, and in my soul. Not all those changes were comfortable: the friends I’d had since childhood were starting to drift apart, my family was undergoing a sort of reconstruction, and my health was still in decline. But there was a lot to be excited about too, like my plans to apply to art school, my newly-cultivated interests and hobbies, and an expanding group of like-minded friends that accepted me for who I was instead of who I had been as a kid. My sense of style was evolving, becoming more reflective of my burgeoning personality. I was downloading music from the Sisters of Mercy, London After Midnight, and the Cure, all bands that were new to me at the time. I was in the throws of my first love, an affair that would open my eyes to previously unfathomable highs and equally astonishing lows all in a whirlwind year-and-a-half. Sixteen was going to be my biggest year yet and ultimately, the year that defined much of who I am as a person today.

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My life has always been a series of deaths and rebirths. As a child, I had only seen what seemed to be the horribly unfair breakdowns, but at sixteen I began to understand that those cataclysmic collapses were a necessary part of the improvement process. If nothing ever fell apart, we would have no reason to grow as individuals. I was beginning to explore my spirituality, laying aside a fairly traditional Roman Catholic upbringing in favor of new age religions that fell in line with my individual belief system. I added books by Alastair Crowley, Allan Kardec, and Margot Adler to my studies. The entire world was alive with magic.

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At the same time, my appearance became as much of an art as the drawings I compulsively produced. I was asserting my independence through miniskirts and colored tights, platformed mary-janes and neon cat collars. My eyeliner was a feat of dexterity, winged out to my temples and often swirled down around my cheekbones. Hilarity aside, it was a major stride towards my personal aesthetic that I had never previously explored. Sure, I had perused fashion magazines in doctors’ waiting rooms and bookstore cafes, but I had never really taken a personal interest in them. At sixteen, I began not only looking, but buying magazines from New York, the UK, Japan, and Italy to feed my flirtation with fashion.

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It’s hard to believe a full decade has passed. The person I am today can be directly traced to that sixteen-year-old and all the radical changes that were brewing inside her. Today feels less like my birthday and more like an anniversary of who I became–a magical, independent spirit who looks forward more than back. And I feel like twenty-six is going to be just as big as sixteen.This year, I’m going to manifest my own destiny instead of waiting for it to happen to me. I’m going to take all my wild Sagittarian desires into my own hands to make them a reality–the world is waiting, and I refuse to disappoint. I’m rededicating myself to the destiny I want, rather than surrender to the reality that people expect. I’m casting off the skins of hopelessness that have weighed me down for years and adopting new can-do colours. Anything is possible if you really want it, and trust me, I want it. It might have taken me another ten years to realize that was true, but everything happens in its own time. Now is mine.

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Metamorphosis

The Paths We Take

Even as an adult, I don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up. The entire idea of pinning down a path for myself seems daunting. I’ve tried on a lot of hats–pastry chef, hair stylist, translator, illustrator, but none of them fit well for very long. We’re trained to think that everything has its place, but figuring out where our own isn’t always so cut-and-dry. In the past, each time I began to diverge from my chosen path, I viewed it as a failure: I wasn’t good enough, I was too flighty, I was impulsive. But taking a step back, I realize this was never the case. Each job I took, each course of study I completed taught me a set of valuable skills. I learned how to perform tasks that I could apply to numerous fields even outside that specific career. Each moment taught me more about myself, about what I enjoyed and what I did not, and what I identified with. I wonder if I might have decided to become a vegan had I not worked in restaurant kitchens, or if I would have explored the option of cosmetology had I not explored my theories on art in philosophy classes. Even when I fell out of love with jobs and schools, I learned valuable lessons about moving on.

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I love working as a makeup artist. I love learning my products, experimenting with techniques, teaching people how to emphasize their best features. It’s a rewarding career: there’s no feeling quite like turning the mirror on a client and watching their eyes as they realize the beautiful person in the mirror is actually them. It’s an honor to work with people on some of the most important occasions of their lives, knowing that you were a part of their memories and contributed to making their photographs beautiful reminders. But if I imagine myself 10 or 15 years in the future, I don’t necessarily see myself as a makeup artist down the line.

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Looking back, I always thought I would end up in the literary field. I love to write and constantly have fiction projects going, but I also love to read and edit other people’s work. My focus in art school was illustration, often taking inspiration from literature or my own projects for my work. And while my attention has shifted somewhat recently into fine arts, I feel myself being pulled back to illustration again. I’m interested to see what themes I end up exploring once the summer break comes and my work can become my own again. I appreciate the instruction and direction that my classes give me, but I’m always anxious to see how they’ve influenced me when I begin to produce pieces that are truly my own again.

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With school winding down in just a few weeks, I’m starting to plan my life for the next few months. In my memories, summer holidays were blissfully unstructured, breezy and carefree, but as I get older I feel like structure is no longer an option. It’s mandatory. Structure keeps my productivity up, and productivity it what keeps me sane. I’ve got some exciting new ventures on the horizon and I can’t wait to share them with you as they start to solidify. I’d like to think that by the end of the summer, I’ll be closer to answering that question everyone poses to themselves at some point: “what will I be?” I may never be able to respond with absolute certainty, but each aspect of myself that I explore brings me one step closer.

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