The Consolation of Photography

I bought a new camera in March. It has been my salvation during the pandemic.

Posted Oct 30, 2020

I have been a shutterbug for as long as I can remember.

One of my favorite Christmas gifts was an Instamatic camera, packaged in Kodak's distinctive bright yellow box. I was 9 or 10 years old then, and I still have some of the pictures I took with it, neatly filed in a photo box labeled, “PHOTOS: Childhood to 1983.”

My earliest subjects were the family dog, my parents and my brother, often captured at Thanksgiving, Christmas and on our summer vacations.

Copyright © 2020 by Susan Hooper
Female Mallard in Spring
Source: Copyright © 2020 by Susan Hooper

I put my hobby aside in high school and college, but I picked it up again when my father and brother—both avid photographers, too—bought me a camera before I entered journalism school in my mid-20s.  

I majored in print journalism, but over the years, I continued to pursue my avocation of snapping photos of family, friends and the places where I traveled.

My neatly organized photo boxes hold visual memories as diverse as a pine woods in Minnesota, a lively city square in Buenos Aires, a rain-soaked parade during a wine festival in Montmartre, and a coal-black raven at the Tower of London.

In 1988, I moved from Washington, D.C., to Hawaii; for 15 years, the colors in many of my photographs were the vivid greens, reds and magentas of my island home.

After I moved to Pennsylvania in 2003 to help care for my ailing mother, my chief subjects became my brother’s two sons, who then were ages 5 and 8. Each year until the younger one turned 18, I made a photo album for my brother, documenting my nephews’ progress through childhood and their teenage years.

My nephews were agreeable subjects, and they taught me valuable lessons about photographing fast-moving humans—as opposed to the generally tranquil scenes I had captured on my travels.

In 2007, I switched from film to a digital camera; I supplemented my photo-box archives with the iPhoto program on my Mac laptop. I now have more than 12,500 photos in that digital archive.

In 2012, before a trip to England and Wales, I bought a new digital camera—a Panasonic Lumix. It served me well for five years before I noticed dark spots appearing on my photos.

I loved that camera so much that, instead of replacing it, I stubbornly spent two years trying to shoot around the dark spots. Not surprisingly, I had only limited success.

I researched replacement cameras online and even visited my local Best Buy’s camera department once or twice. But no camera seemed quite right, so I continued to postpone the inevitable.     

Strangely, the catalyst that finally propelled me toward buying a new camera was jury duty.

Last December, I received a jury duty summons; I reluctantly reported in early March, just as the coronavirus was becoming a concern in the United States.

I spent four long days being considered and then rejected for several juries. On the afternoon of the fourth day, the jury administrator said I had fulfilled my civic duty, and I was dismissed.

To celebrate my release, the next day I drove to my local Best Buy, determined to buy a camera. This time the sales associate who helped me was an ace photographer himself. After I explained what I had loved about my last camera, he suggested a Canon PowerShot would work well for me.

The black-and-white Canon camera box looked almost nothing like the bright yellow Kodak Instamatic box of my childhood. But as I walked out of the store clutching the bag with my new camera in it, I felt the same sense of excitement that I had on that long-ago Christmas.  

I was fortunate to have shopped when I did. The following week, my state imposed restrictions on a variety of public spaces, including big-box retailers, to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. I became the proud owner of my new camera in the nick of time.

In the seven months since, I have been repeatedly grateful I had the good sense to finally break down and buy it.

I have taken more than 650 photos with my new camera, and most subjects have been the flora and fauna in my suburban neighborhood at the foot of one of the mountains in the Appalachian chain. 

Because I can’t travel to distant locales now, I have focused my camera on the natural wonders within a few miles of my townhouse.

These have included a companionable pair of mallard ducks, small groups of white-tailed deer, the delicate blossoms of a crabapple tree, colorful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, and a catbird perched in the branches of a neighbor’s tree.

Making these photographs has required both an abundance of patience and complete indifference to how absurd I look as I stand stock-still and train my camera on a butterfly, bird or fawn.

One reward of my hours behind the viewfinder has been the photographs themselves. But my hobby has also brought great emotional solace at a time when the entire planet seems to have slipped out of balance, and both the present and the future seem dark and full of foreboding.

As I looked at some of my nature photographs yesterday, I was suddenly reminded of a line of poetry from my college days: “To see the world in a grain of sand.”

To jog my memory, I looked it up online; the author was the English poet William Blake (1757-1827). The phrase is from his poem, “Auguries of Innocence.”

Blake lived at a time of great social and political upheaval, too; he railed against the industrialization of England, the exploitation of workers, and the misery of the poor.

As I read the poem online, I was delighted to see this couplet, which mirrors my experience with the forest creatures I have encountered this year:

“The wild deer, wandring here & there / Keeps the Human Soul from Care”

I know I cannot repair our wounded world with my camera. But I have used it this year as a balm to heal my own wounded spirit, and I have shared my photographs via email with friends who say they are grateful for the moments of beauty and solace they provide.

My hope is that nature will continue to offer me more moments of beauty and solace to share in the months to come. And during that time, I hope the world will begin to heal, too.      

Copyright © 2020 by Susan Hooper