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Monday May 13, 2002, 19:38

After finally kicking whatever it is that I picked up on the plane going to Ireland last weekend (well, now, at this point, two weekends ago, but really, when one does not work, one rapidly loses track of the days of the week, reality only kept in check by one's own surroundings) I flung open the windows to find myself confronted with the glory that is weather in London. Traditionally known for overcast, rainy weather, spring brings with it more of the same, only not quite as chilly (he said, with an air of confidence that one who spends the majority of the day talking to one's self and building up one's own ego is sure to maintain). Undaunted, I headed out.

Two weeks ago, I discovered that my pride and joy, my father's old Pentax Spotmatic camera, a 35 year old tank of an SLR, metal body, screw-mount lenses, and that satisfying snap that one feels when pressing ever so gently on the shutter, had decided to die, again. After a couple of months of rediscovery, like sipping coffee with an old friend, exploring never-before seen parts of a familiar, and a not so familiar city, the light meter in the camera decided that it had just about had enough of my abuse. Again. The first time, the meter was repaired somewhere in Canada, and that repair seemed to have held for a little while. But after bringing in the camera again for an estimate, I realized that it was just not worth the cost of repair just to have the thing fall apart on me again, despite the nostalgia and old-school appeal of that particular body.

If you've ever held an old SLR camera, say one that's over fifteen years old, before they started making everything out of plastic, and you compare that to the ones that are made today, there will be a distinct difference felt between the two cameras. There is a heft, to be sure, in the older cameras, that you might begin to curse at the end of the day, but there is also warmth that one gets when one is to play with any piece of old machinery. With technological advancements of today we can have music in the palm of our hands and cameras that record images on chips rather than film. Or, to take it one step back, we can have light-weight SLR cameras that are close to silent, automatically detect subjects from pupil fluctuations, and beep and whir with computerized precision. And yet, at least as an amateur photographer who doesn't rely on each shot to be perfect, I like the imperfections that one can get when using old equipment. Manual focus is the way to go in my mind, a bit blurry, a bit warmer, a bit more of a reminder that, in fact, there was a real person behind that camera, looking at that image captured on film. I could make the analogy to vinyl versus CD, but I'm sure that someone before has beaten it to death already.

And so it is with great hesitation that I consider purchasing myself a new camera. One of those whiz-bang jobs with the auto-focus and the pop-up flash and any number of hyphenated features that I just feel I don't need. At least not for what I do, which is take pictures of people standing on the sidewalk or of street signs that I find funny. I watch the meter twitch in my camera, I adjust the aperture as appropriate, I guess a bit more, and I snap the shutter and I'll find out if I did the right thing when the film comes back from the processor. And of course it will be the same with the new camera, because you can make those new cameras do anything you want to, right? But the metering will be different and beepy and it won't have that immediate feel of the little needle twitching up and down and I will be sorely disappointed.

So I went and I sadly collected my camera. My non-working, non-metering camera, the death of which was probably my own fault for too much abuse for such an old soul. I went and collected my camera, writing off the cost of the estimate as something that had to be done, for my own sanity. I shed a tear or two as I walked down the stairs and headed out to the street.

And what better way to cure the woes of a departed friend than a trip to the toy store? To be completely truthful, it was only a trip just inside the toy store to the new Star Wars exhibit where I intended to enter my name in to the drawing for a life-sized C3P0 and R2D2 pair. They are quite stunning, to be sure, and would make a lovely addition to my life. The Star Wars section features many of the new action figures as well as a wall of Legos, a child-sized bounty hunter (one of the Fett's whose first name I really just don't remember) and some strange R2D2 lollipops. There was already a woman at the entry box when I arrived and I watched as she wrote her name on about half a dozen entries and neatly folded each one before entering her chance.

"You really want to win, don't you?

"Really, I only want the R2D2 for my flat."

"Ahhhh, well, if you win, you can give me the C3P0..."

And I smiled. And I turned and I looked back, and she had vanished. And I realized that my skills for random conversation and meeting strangers have severely atrophied recently, due either to my new-found domesticity or merely the displacement due to the transition to a new city. I would like to think that it's the latter, for I don't really see the former diminishing at all (upon first arrival I, we, went out and purchased a new dresser for the bedroom after all) whereas the latter will either pass as I become accustomed to these surroundings, or the issue will become moot as I am forced by the powers of immigration to leave this country and return to more welcoming urban arms. Either way, I look forward to the return of my ego and my sense of inter-personal adventure.

I think I'm becoming a hermit.

I ventured forth into the city again in the early evening to track down a photography studio that I had read about. Staffed by volunteers and featuring studios and a darkroom and within a half-hour walk of here, it sounded like the perfect venue in which to meet people and to give myself something to do with my time. Regrettably, the feeling was more of what one might presume a low-budget soft core porn studio to be. I was greeted by an old gentleman named Roy (Ray? Egon? I don't really recall) who looked at me strangely when I told him that I had heard about the studio and just wanted to come by and inquire about their rates and their operations. The waiting room featured peeling paint, low leather-ish sofas (worn at the arms), and a couple of dozen photos of the models that are often used in shoots at this studio. "The lasses," said Roy as he gestured to them. After the brief tour I was encouraged to take a gander at the model book ("you might as well, you might change your mind about studio work after you've seen it"), the pages of which were filled with color photocopied pages of portraits of models all in various stages of undress. "Available for glamour or nude shots" they read, and after a brief chat with Roy (Ray?) about the sad state of my Spotmatic, I bid him farewell and headed out into the welcoming rain again.

Which wasn't to say that the facility wasn't a good one, or that it might not prove useful in the future for me. But if I was searching for a sense of community, I have since learned that it is not to be found in a dingy photo studio in Camden. I am really just looking for something that strikes me right now. Something that takes hold of me, and, at my introduction, welcomes me in. This might be too much to ask for, but I feel as though there should be a group of like-minded people somewhere in this city that I can latch onto to have some fun.

I walked home, opening my umbrella to the sky only when I felt that the wind was not going to tear it from from my hands only to deposit it unceremoniously in the face of the poor individual walking behind me. Which was about half the time. The other half of the time I was rained upon by the sky over the city that has become my new home. The rain stopped for a moment. I looked up at the sky and saw that I was under a metal and glass grid facade. The rain had not actually stopped. Silly me. I stuck my hands into my pockets and stared at the sky through the grid. My hands grasped around a box. A fuzzy box of some sort. I pulled it out of my pocket and smiled. My friend, the younger brother of my dearly departed Spotmatic, had found its way into my coat before I left for my walk. Fully automatic, point-and-shoot, this young Fuji had traveled with me to China and on my first trip to London, before this move had actually become anything resembling a reality. And now he was here with me again. Under this glass and metal umbrella, I became reacquainted with a little friend of mine.

On. Zoom. Click. Whir. Off.

He does not quite have the warmth of the SLR. He never could. But he was there for me, and that's what really counts. And the mystery of the shot? Well, I'll just have to wait for processing to find out how he did.

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