To Shoot or Not to Shoot

To Shoot or Not to Shoot


Not guns, Cameras.

The last time I went to Italy I had a “new” complex camera that I had not mastered and a cheap, pocket SLR.  The photos I took were pathetic. I have regretted not having studied more, practiced more, done more ahead of time. I actually “lost” the better of the two cameras on a Vaporetto on the way IN to Venice from the airport.  In a scene right out of “I Love Lucy” it was found and returned to me after a water taxi to Lido and a long and comical interaction with an Italian-only policeman.  The minuscule Polizzei statione had no copier so the poor fellow had to meticulously draw my US driver’s permit, photo and all, onto a square of paper for his files.  Really funny, a great cocktail tale even now.

My regret at not having “memories” of any note from that trip is still palpable.  I went on to become something of a good photographer; several more generations of increasingly complex and excellent cameras followed. I have always seen the world through a lens-finder, I am good at it; framing, color balance, and composition, the right natural lighting, etc.  I went on the have pictures in several galleries in my hometown and belonged to two collectives.  I had exhibits in Portland and Fort Lauderdale.  It felt rewarding to show (and sell) even a few of my images.

But years have a way of sliding past us and the lucky among us “keep passing the open windows”, John Irving, “The Hotel New Hampshire”.  And here I am today, pre-packing for over a month in Italy, a once (again) in a lifetime trip that I never thought I would get to make. At my age (71) there have been entirely too many health and body-related issues to enumerate.  The motto in our home is “Can you fix it?  Great.  Let’s do it!”

The only relevant crisis, in my opinion, was a blow to my head two years ago that, after some surgery, left me in really better shape than before, mentally and physically!

But something is different.

I have not really picked up my camera seriously in several years.  I have no burning compulsion to shoot photos as I once did. Sure, I’m busy these days, busier than I have been in 20 years but the drive (need?) to record the images that my eye confronts daily is somehow muted…or gone entirely. This leads me to my current dilemma.

to shoot or not to shoot

As I pack for abroad, I am trying, for once in my storied travel career of over-packing hell, to streamline and lighten my burden.  I am older if not entirely wiser. We are staying put in Firenze for the entire time with only two sojourns out of town with an overnight bag. Yes, we have a washer and dryer in our flat so editing the wardrobe can actually be accomplished. My poor maligned feet though, require multiple shoe changes within a day to remain functional while tramping about cobbled alleyways.  Lightweight shoes are on order.  But the camera.  Ahhh, the conundrum of the camera.

Everything and everyone tells me, “You have better resolution on your phone than you do on your camera!” The appeal of just reaching into my pocket (like the pickpockets in Italy are famous for) and snapping an image is enticing…to a point.  Then I start to think about my trusty 300x zoom lens that I always have on my camera (Heavy? Hell yeah!) and the incredible resolution it gives and the compositional boundaries it blows up in sacrifice to my artist’s eye.  What architectural wonders could I capture in my own unique vision and how much satisfaction and joy could/would that bring me? But then more questions and questioning.

What would I ever do with the images?

Bore friends with trips they weren’t on?

Frame them and hang them on walls I don’t have?

Let their lack of menu and organization haunt my already cluttered desktop and mind?

And even more esoteric in nature, am I, by constantly pausing to hold up my camera, frame a shot, decide whether one or multiple images are necessary, stumble about looking for a fresher, newer, better angle and perspective, losing what I am there for in the first place.  

The experience of simply being there.

We are staying in one place in one city for over a month.  Why? To really absorb the ebb and flow of life in another country in a city I love.  Am I sacrificing a tangible experiential set of circumstances for some images that almost nobody else on the planet will not be bored by?  Will the memories those photos evoke in me be enough to justify the one-step-removed observational stance that I, as a photographer/recorder, must take to amass the gallery of images I already see in my mind?

Or will my trip be sepia-toned with regret that I chose not to bring The Camera?

OCD or smart reasoning? I never can know anymore. Pre-packing three months ahead of time?  For me, that’s OCD for sure. Already replaying camera regret that has not even happened yet this far ahead, and projecting that regret onto the rest of my short lifetime left to me? Again…..really? To carry or not to carry? To shoot or not to shoot?  It sounds like an NRA battle but it is entirely in my head alone and the lethality of a photo is not worthy of this much angst.

I have months to argue and negotiate this issue in my mind. I am leaving space in my luggage…’just in case’ but in reality, maybe I need to bite the bullet and leave the Big Boy at home and try not to act like an American tourist, just this once.

Maybe I’ll fill that space with a fabulous pair of Italian loafers from the Ponte Vecchio instead.

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