Wrecks of the Week

They happen so fast; wrecks. In the blink of an eye, one careless motion can change someone’s entire life.

I got behind a UPS truck pulling doubles this morning on the way to work. Ordinarily I would have passed him, but after watching him weave back forth into the fast lane and then all the way onto the opposite shoulder a few times I decided it would be prudent to follow a good way behind until the interstate widened to three lanes. These are the kind of drivers that cause accidents. After a while I watched the truck driver run merge into another lane, running a pickup truck off the road and onto the shoulder. I blew the horn because I felt I needed to do something. It could have been a nasty wreck.

They happen so fast; wrecks. In the blink of an eye, one careless motion can change someone’s entire life. In the time it takes to check a text message someone could brake check you and you’ll be checked out for good.

It is rare that I do not see at least one accident per week on my commute. I have spent hours parked on the interstate behind countless accidents, making me late for work, and more importantly late for home. In April of 2019, I was late for work because of a wreck in Birmingham. As we crawled past the scene I snapped a quick picture with my phone, mainly as evidence for being late. When I finally got to work and had a chance to look at it I was struck by how powerful the image was. Since then, I’ve tried to capture a photograph of every wreck I’ve seen. I’ve captured quite a few over the past year, but I don’t even get half of them. Sometimes it just isn’t safe to try take a picture.

My first wreck photograph. I’ve often wondered about that phone conversation.

It is easy to forget that an inconvenience in schedule for thousands may be fatal for one. While someone is furious about being late to a place that they would rather not go, someone else will never get to speak to a loved one again. I try to think about this when I see a wreck.

I share all of the wreck photos on Instagram. They don’t get a ton of likes. I think because people may feel uncomfortable liking such horrible subject matter. Nevertheless, whenever I meet one of my social media friends in person they always bring up the wreck pictures. It is human nature to want to gawk at calamity, that’s why we rubberneck on the highway, even if we don’t smile about it.

I’m not sure how you look at art, but I like to imagine what is going in the picture. These images all tell a story.

I had a flat on the way home from work. I hope that this is the only time I’m ever featured on Wrecks of the Week.

You can find more wrecks of the week on my Instagram account. As always, thank you for your support.

Film Photography

Do you remember taking photographs on film?

I love yard sales. Previously loved merchandise. Everything you never knew you couldn’t live without can be found at a yard sale. Part of the fun of a yard sale is digging through the junk to find the treasure. Sometimes it’s only digging through junk. Even when you do find treasure, it sometimes only seems like treasure because the junk makes it look better. This is how I got back into film photography.

I have a recurring dream that I find a cache of treasure (usually guitars) for sale dirt cheap at some yard sale or thrift store. From time to time it comes true. Like the time I found a bunch of pocket knives at an estate sale. Today I’m thinking about the time I stumbled upon the motherlode of film camera equipment at the church yard sale. The yard sale itself had a half acre of merchandise spilling off of tables and onto tarps. There was an entire table full of lenses, filters, flashes, and bulbs. On the edge of the table was whicker basket full of film cameras. My mind went back to photography class when I spotted a pristine Canon A-1 Camera with a 50mm lens. I picked it up and instinctively focused the lens on one of the yard sale characters walking around. I advanced the film lever and clicked the shutter release button. There was the unmistakable whir of a shutter quickly opening and closing. A sound that even kids born in the 21st century will recognize from their iPhone camera.

I was hooked. Camera in hand, I walked over to Sis. Tina Updike, who was running the cash register that day. “How much for the camera Sis. Tina?” I asked. She frowned at me like she’d never seen a camera before she asked, “Is $10 too much?” I quickly paid for the camera before I had a chance to talk myself out of taking up a new hobby. I also went and scooped a couple of lenses, another SLR camera, and an enlarger so I could develop my own film.

As I fiddled with the camera and did a little bit of research to refresh my new found venture in to film photography, I began to think abstractly how film photography is more like life than the convenient digital photography that has cemented it’s place in our culture over the past twenty or so years. There was a time when cameras were investments, now they are just features on our phones. Camera phones have made us all photographers.

Think about when you were a kid. Unless you don’t remember having to take pictures with a camera, take your undeveloped film to Wal-Mart, shop around for an hour until you could finally pick up an envelope of actual pictures. Not only did you have to purchase film, but you had to pay for the pictures before you could decide that you were a terrible photographer. You kept the pictures anyway, and couldn’t wait to show them to your friends. The next time you had company, you’d pass around your pictures and you’d all laugh at the ones that didn’t come out like you wanted. The few pictures that came out great got an elevated frame or refrigerator status.

The first roll of film that I shot with my Canon A-1 was interesting. There were 24 frames. It made me stop and think before I snapped the shutter. I had to manually focus each picture. I had to wait a couple of weeks before I could see the fruit of my labor. Long enough to almost forget what I’d shot. Opening that first envelope of pictures was quite emotional. I sat down and looked through them with my wife. Like any roll of film, there were some duds. An image with uninteresting subject material, a poorly focused shot, or improper exposure. Even so, there were few really good pictures that I framed.

A photograph is frozen moment in time. Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke of the decisive moment, or the perfect moment to freeze in time. You can’t retake the same picture, because time will move forward. You’ll stop and refocus, changing the composition. Life is much more like a roll of film with a set amount of frames than a digital phone camera where we can take endless pictures in order to capture an image of how we think we should look. It’s a sobering thought, time.

Mostly From Memory is me sharing with you my life’s roll of film. Sure, I get to edit the pictures a little bit to make the subject material shine, but I can’t go back and take more pictures. Neither can you. Each season in our life is a frame of time on a limited roll. I wish that we could simply “delete” some pictures in life because of uninteresting or embarrassing subject material. Or a poorly focused shot. Or improper exposure.

I have a strong desire to make each season in my life count.

I can’t remember if I was thinking along these lines as I loaded the second roll of film into my now beloved Canon A-1, but I did know that I hoped to make every shot count. I think I took a few pictures of my kids, who wouldn’t be still to for anything in the world. The next day I took my camera to work so I could take pictures of downtown Winchester on my lunch break. There was one shot that I planned on taking. Every day I looked out from the fourth floor of the parking garage across the alley to the fire escape of the George Washington Hotel. The metal staircase against the backdrop of brick formed a perfect Z.

Z for Zane. I focused my camera on the target, but to get the composition just right required me to stand on the concrete barrier a foot from off of ground and lean against the railing with my knees. I took my time focusing and double checked my exposure before I firmly pressed the shutter release. Satisfied that I had not wasted a frame of film, I stepped back from my perch into reality. I was a hair higher than I expected and when my foot didn’t reach solid ground I grabbed for the rail, which was only barely above my knee. I panicked. In my desperation to regain my balance, my prized camera slipped from my hand. I watched it tumble through the air from four stories up. It fell for a long time, almost in slow motion, getting smaller and smaller until it smashed into the concrete and burst into pieces that fled the impact. I stared at the wreckage for quite a while before I realized that I could never take another picture with that camera. Then I walked down the stairs and picked up the pieces.

My busted Canon A-1. A testament to fragility of life.