August 18, 2011

Have Phone, Will Shoot -- Pictures

The cell phone is so ubiquitous, that no one questions the fact that these devices have become more like Swiss Army knives than merely telephones. I remember when I made my first cell phone call. It was in my friend Jeff's car and we were coming back from the Hamptons. It was around 1992. I remember this because my wife and I were married the year before and we were no longer newlyweds by then.

Jeff bought this gray, wedge of plastic with large punch buttons, and a narrow LCD screen for around three hundred dollars. Though cell phones had been around for a few years by then, they were for people with money who also liked to flaunt the fact that they were able to make phone calls from train platforms and restaurants. I joked with my friend telling that if he waited a year, phone companies would be giving them away. Wow, was I right on that one. 

Today, I can't remember a time when I didn't go about my daily routine without a cell phone in my pocket. No longer do you walk into the lobby of a building and encounter a wall lined with pay phones. They aren't needed anymore. Both my wife and I have mobile phones, and so do my kids. When I was their age, I didn't want to be that accessible. It was a mystery to my parents where I disappeared to when I left the house on a Saturday morning. The only caution they'd have for me was "be home in time for dinner." Not only does my wife call me at work now, so do my kids. Each one of them will do this independently form one another, and they call while they are all at home at the same time. I've received text messages from my daughter from upstairs in her room while I am in the den watching the Yankees asking me, "what's for dinner?" All of this seems bizarre and superfluous as I write about it: yet, it has become a part of everyday life. 

I know people who have devices which no longer resemble what they were originally intended for. All of the apps and other functionality overshadow their original purpose. A person I work with bought a particular phone because she travels a lot and the one she chose has a highly rated GPS feature. Others I know watch videos and play music on their phones more than they text or talk to others. There's a photographer I’m friendly with who owns expensive photography equipment, and also prefers to take stills using his iPhone. 

That brings me to the point I want to make here. As much as I love the convenience a cell phone affords me, I cannot live with one that does not have a decent camera. On our recent Caribbean cruise, my wife took along our digital camera, and I used my cell phone to take pictures and videos. In the past I'd hit up my friends for an image to use on this site, or I'd search Google for public domain photos. Now, I whip Samsung Reality and capture anything interesting I see. 

This does not make me Matthew Brady or Ansel Adams by any stretch of the imagination; but, my ability to take pictures and videos with an inconspicuous hunk of electronics has made me more aware of my surroundings. I've taken snapshots of odd-looking cars, interesting landmarks, plants, friends and family, and dozens of other subjects which end up getting deleted due to my poor photography skills. Yet, my interest remains.

The other day, I trudged down my driveway to retrieve the mail. During summer, insects invade our mailbox and call it home. They engage in futile warfare with me – defiantly standing guard as I open the tiny door, remove all of the envelopes, and then slam it closed. My wife is afraid of these diminutive creatures. They're just grasshoppers, beetles, and other flying, annoying pests. I wouldn't give those bugs a second thought if I wasn't the one forced to go outside to confront them in order to collect our bills and junk mail. 

The morning in question, I completed the task of removing envelopes from the letter box at the curb, when I noticed a green insect eyeballing me. There wasn't a thought going on inside this organism's atom-sized brain. Still, with the tendency we all have of projecting personalities onto animals and other living things, I assumed it was trying to intimidate me. This Jiminy Cricket look-alike didn't budge when I approached it. Then I remembered that I had my cell phone. 

Given that I was standing in front of my home on a somewhat busy street, I tried to make myself inconspicuous as I photographed the insect. I held the phone out at arm's length, rested my wrist on the edge of the mailbox, and made sure I had a good view before taking the shot. If the grasshopper actually was in a territorial showdown with me, I thought, well then I certainly made a fool of it, didn't I?

Yes, I know. I was the fool taking pictures of a grasshopper minding its own business as it happened to be sitting on my mailbox. It’s a lousy photo, too. I'd have taken a better one if I wasn't so self-conscious about passing motorists wondering why I was holding my cell phone two inches away from an insect. Yet, I am glad that I did it anyway. Twenty years ago, no one would have bothered to take a picture of a hapless grasshopper unless it was an art project or for research. I am making this one famous. For as long as there is the internet, this creature's image will endure on some server's hard drive for anyone who stumbles across it to appreciate. 

I'll continue to take photos like that one, not just to record what I see, but because it is fun. In fact, I can't think of a time when I went about my business and didn’t have a camera handy. I mean a cell phone. Wait; is it a phone, or a camera?

By Michael J. Kannengieser
Photo by M.J. Kannengieser

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