September 10, 2010

This month I'm doing a series of stories inspired by the lyrics from a more-or-less arbitrarily selected song ("Growin' Up" by Bruce Springsteen) one line at a time.

Today's lyric is I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and came out with my soul untouched

Today's story is called STEPHANIE THE THIEF OF SOULS HAS COMPUTER TROUBLE IN A ROOM THAT SMELLS LIKE POT

She thought about what the Native Americans had supposedly believed about photography, which was that the camera would steal your soul. She thought, if that were true, then everyone she knew was soulless, and everyone all over the world, with the exception of indigenous peoples still somehow hiding out in the rainforest, and maybe some weird Appalachian hill people. Everything with a soul that had ever had its picture taken. All the puppies in sunglasses. All the tuxedo cats.


Even if the belief had been that every picture only stole a little bit of your soul, everyone she knew wouldn’t have one at all. They would have stolen their own soul and the souls of all their friends a million times over. They had all had their souls chipped away little by little and replaced it all with a shattery mosaic of each other’s little soul-chips. She wondered if it was the camera that took possession of the soul or if it was the photographer. She didn’t like the idea of an iPhone full of souls. She did like the idea of the photographer as a kind of soul-thief. Especially in the old days, the days she idealized, the days when to be a Girl With A Camera was something unique, not like now, when to be a Girl With A Camera was standard, and to be a Girl Without A Camera would actually be the most surprising thing.


In college she’d had a poster up of a female photographer from the 70’s, one of her heroes. The photographer had been wearing a white button-down men’s shirt and there was a camera around her neck and she was lifting it up to shoot and the photograph was black and white but you could tell the woman had light-colored hair and she always imagined there was just a little bit of grey in it, and in her head ever since that’s kind of how she had pictured The Photographer, the kind she wanted to be. She thought about that kind of Photographer wearing an invisible necklace of souls. She thought about the days when just a couple of professional soul-thieves wandered the world without a whole lot of amateurs cluttering up the works. Back then, the amateurs just took pictures of their kids and national monuments and maybe, maybe they worked their way up to birds. Now everyone took pictures of everything and because microchips automatically made each picture contain lots and lots and lots of pixels, everyone thought their pictures looked pretty good, actually, and wondered what the big deal had ever been about photographers with a capital P. “Look at this one. We look like we’re in a movie in this one.” They thought it was about equipment and just about everybody had good enough equipment. Amateurs.


Then again, it was not like anyone was paying her to do this, so she wasn’t sure where she got off thinking of herself as one of the professionals, aside from an immovable thing inside of her that said she saw differently and was doing it for different reasons and the actual output was different than just any Girl With A Camera, even if not everybody’s mom could see the difference. And she felt it was the field of amateurs who from the outside appeared to be just like her but whom she knew to actually be nothing like her that kept her from being a professional. They had apps on their phones that would make their pictures look like Polaroids or pictures from the Old West, or they had the exact same camera she had except they had no idea how to use it, but that didn’t bother them, because they looked at the millions of pixels and thought, this picture I just took must be good, there’s just so much of it. It was really hard to describe what she felt she brought to photographs that they didn’t bring, and never could bring, for all the hardware and software in the world. She was kind of glad she couldn’t describe it because if it could be described it could be programmed into a setting on your camera, and if she had to try to describe it she just wouldn’t try, because she was afraid she would end up describing it as, ha ha ha ha, soul.


Her camera wouldn’t recognize the computer. Or the computer wouldn’t recognize her camera. Or something. She was sure somewhere across town some girl her age was having no trouble getting photos that were already treated because of the application she had on her phone onto her computer and posting them to her blog and getting noticed by someone who could pay that girl to take pictures of things, while here in her room she still labored to get her computer to recognize her actual camera, and by the time she got the pictures onto the computer to work on them a little bit, not to give them any kind of clever retouching but just to make them look more like how the things in them had actually looked, which she had always thought was supposed to be the point, the only people who would notice them by the time she ever got them out there she would only get the kind of recognition she had already gotten, that is, maybe a couple of people would repost a few of her pictures somewhere else without crediting her, because things on the Internet just bubbled up out of nowhere, without authorship or intent or lasting anything. She knew that the girl she was imagining was not actually across town and was probably in Seattle or Boulder or South Korea, but it was always fun to imagine your imaginary rival as being across town.


Her bedroom smelled like pot, but she didn’t have any pot.


If the Native Americans thought cameras stole your soul, that meant they thought that your outward appearance was you soul, and that was pretty shallow. Or maybe there was something to it. Something about peoples’ outward appearance better have something to do with their souls, she thought, or else I’ll be out of a job. Not that I actually have a job. Not doing this, anyway.


The computer finally made a “ding” noise as the camera connected to it. She clicked “yes” a couple times and “not right now” once and the pictures came rushing through. They flashed by one at a time and it was kind of neat because you could watch the light change as photographs from different times of the day went by, the morning pictures into the afternoon pictures into the evening pictures into the night ones.


The real photographers can steal your soul, she decided. The really good ones. That will be what separates us from the wannabes from now on. And you’ll never know it, but we will.

Posted by DC at September 10, 2010 03:51 PM
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