April 2013

Picture this

By David Feela

You’ve seen them, those eccentric old codgers and codgees who live in houses so cluttered by debris there’s only a narrow aisle through stacks of teetering cardboard boxes and plastic bags through which you navigate a trip to, say, the bathroom.

Or maybe you’ve seen the motorists who drive vehicles so crammed with old newspapers, magazines, catalogs, junk mail, and fast-food trash that there’s a breaker of discarded pulp constantly spilling over the seats, crashing against the dashboard.

I’m the pixelated equivalent to those folks, or as an updated version of the old saying goes, There but for the grace of technology go I.

With the handy point-and-shoot camera I own -- nothing special – I take photos, often indiscriminately, and I fill up memory cards with the digital equivalent of memories. It may sound like I live a full and artistically enhanced life, but my difficulties arise from having archived so many of these pixels it’s becoming increasingly difficult to sort through them. I can’t even remember what I’ve collected.

I blame technology for my virtual sloppiness, the advent of digital photography which eliminated the expense of processing film and producing handy little photos. I used to tuck them into drawers, cardboard boxes, and plastic bags. Today taking a photo is way too uncomplicated. There’s no paper trail for me, because I’m too cheap to run prints, relying on the knowledge I can always raise the images like ghosts from the graveyard of my computer’s hard drive. Worse, I hesitate to delete my pictures. After all, I might need that photo in the future – that is, if I’m ever able to find it again.

Digital cameras have done for photography what frozen dinners did for the home-cooked meal. In the hands of an amateur like me, a camera can be a dangerous. It has become increasingly likely that I will bore my friends to death by showing them the latest photos from a road trip, or a birthday party, or a mountain hike, or a visit with my relatives and their grand-babies, or a sporting event, or a political rally, or a river trip, or... okay, you get the picture.

Roughly 10 years ago, a 2-megapixel camera was the norm; in September, 2012, the world’s most powerful 570-megapixel camera gathered images of starlight from 8 billion years ago. Can anyone gather enough stardust? I find myself wondering how long before a user-friendly model of that camera will be available. Aside from the moon, I don’t have any clear pictures of celestial objects.

Part of the hoarder’s mentality is the notion that all that “stuff ” is going to be worth money some day, and I know I have a genetic disposition toward this way of thinking, because I still possess memories of my grandmother’s house, her creaky stairs leading to a mothball-scented second floor where nobody lived – rooms, cupboards and dresser drawers, closet shelves and floors stacked to overflowing with the kind of treasure only a boy who has slipped clear of his parents’ radar could appreciate.

News of a class-action lawsuit against Instagram only encourages me, for apparently a plethora of images uploaded to the internet by subscribers to this Facebook-owned photo service are suddenly worth something to the corporation. Why else would Instagram change its terms of service to claim ownership of any photos on its site, co-opting the legal right to sell its loyal users’ photos without bothering to even ask, or to compensate the photographers? I’m beginning to suspect I’ve got a gold mine of pixel dust sprinkled on my memory cards and computer hard drive.

The only problem with getting rich is that I’m not a subscriber to the Instagram service; I still have my junk stored on my own devices, an instinct which probably stems from a deep-seated mistrust of corporate entities. I know their advertisements claim to have my interests at heart, but hey, how do they know what my interests are unless they’ve been snooping with their spyware through the cartons of cookies they’ve stored in my computer’s pantry?

Enough said. I’ve got to get busy uploading my photos to Instagram. I could be megapixels richer, and if not, at least I will have succeeded in moving my junk into their virtual warehouse. It might be old-fashioned to think picture is worth a mere thousand words.

David Feela is an award-winning poet, author, and retired high-school teacher in Montezuma County, Colo.