“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I was at the movies, which looked more like an airport, with rows of uncomfortable seats semi-aimed at various screens showing non-discernable movies. I sat, joined shortly by two men near me on my right, and shortly thereafter, a young woman to my left. Now that I travel often—and always with camera gear—I’m especially leery for my bags to ever be out of my sight. I reached down to check the status of my bag and accidentally grabbed the one belonging to the woman (who also had camera gear). We laughed and I handed it back to her, and we joked about how similar leather bags feel in the dark. Assuming it was safe enough (and exercising my trust in the public), I went off in search of an iced tea, leaving my bags by their little leather selves. I was beyond thrilled to see that everything was still there when I came back, including an additional bag on top of my pile. Black neoprene, with tan leather trim. The closure piece was missing; there were holes where it had been. I saw somewhere in my periphery the two men who sat near me in the other seats; I grew a bit suspicious. My first thought was that it was the young woman’s and that she had accidentally left it there. Or maybe because there was no longer a clasp, someone had simply discarded it: people in airports don’t have the time or patience to haul broken stuff around. I reached in the bag and pulled out a camera, an instant-film Kodak camera that looked much like my Polaroid Spectra. “I didn’t know that Kodak made this type of camera,” I thought as I looked at it. Without touching it, the shutter unexpectedly clicked and a photo popped out. As it developed, I could see that it was a collage of nine photos. And then I realized that it was a collage of MY photos . . . from years and years ago. Photos from my childhood homes in San Antonio and Flagstaff. The playhouse my dad built for me in the backyard. Trees. Rocks. Dogs. Hamsters. The piano in our front room. Chalk drawings on the sidewalk. My family. My friend and I in Hawaii when we were 18. The photos that I would so love to have now, not because I think they have any photographic value, but because I would love to see what I found so valuable as a kid that I would spend all my allowance and paper route money on film and developing. The screen scrolled sideways like an iPhone to display the next collage. I couldn’t take my eyes off the photo as it continued to scroll and change. The questions tumbled around in my stupefied mind: “But who could have gotten these? Who could have gotten these? They’re not digital and they certainly haven’t been scanned. Do I even have these photos anymore?”
Then I awoke, thinking about this incredible experience, this amazing camera. I thought about how I was wary of the two men who sat by me, and even the young woman. Perhaps it was about letting people get closer, learning to trust a bit; not everybody is out to do harm. If I hadn’t let them sit there, would the camera have made an appearance? It seemed to me that it was all a reminder about the joyous wonder of making the memories that are captured in the instant when the shutter is pressed: a true testament to the power of the photograph. And my beautiful magic camera, reminding me of friends I’ve had and the experiences we’ve shared, places I’ve been, and the adventure of all of it. In so many ways, my life flashing before my eyes in the weird airport-ish movie theatre, on my way to somewhere else, but stopping to watch a story told in moving and still pictures, the people I meet along the way and how they touch—and change—this journey of mine, and ultimately, a look back at where I’ve been.
“Man fulfills his dream by photographic magic.” – Daniel J. Boorstin