Hi. My name is Emma Bolden. I like to take pictures.
Which, I mean, you probably already know, since I post a weekly wrap-up full of faux-artistic shots shot from my camera phone every week. What you may not already know is that it takes a lot for me to say that I like to take pictures. I always feel a little strange, like I’m making a major confession, and that making that major confession involves a major transgression. I feel like I have no business taking pictures, that I don’t belong in Cameraland — I feel like I have one very small toe halfway over the border, and I have to be very, very quiet about it so I don’t get kicked out and banned from lenses and viewfinders forever.
The truth is, I’ve always been fascinated by photography (shh — let’s not say this too loudly, okay? In fact, let’s read this entire entry like a whisper. Starting now.). At my elementary school, we had some sort of certainly ill-advised program in which grammar school students were allowed to buy their own things from some brochure that consisted mostly of monster finger puppets and toys you could throw against the wall and watch as they stuck and crawled down. Though these things were certainly awesome, my selection was different: I got my very first camera, a tiny Kodak thing that shot 110 film.
When it arrived, I remember looking at it for a long time before I put in the film cartridge, trying to figure out how it worked, how this little black rectangle froze time on paper. I began obsessively taking photographs of my poor grandparents and their front yards. I remember taking a lot of pictures of bird baths and crepe myrtles. When the roll was finally finished and developed, I couldn’t wait to look at the photos.
It was then that I realized something just wasn’t right. The camera, as it turns out, was a liar. It hadn’t seen what I’d seen. It had captured images, but they weren’t the images I wanted to capture. I was furious and heartbroken and probably pouted a while in abject depression, which is something I really enjoyed doing at age six. I was disappointed in the camera and I was disappointed in myself. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get what I saw to show up on paper.
Now, of course, I know why the photographs I intended to take and the photographs I actually took didn’t match up. Not only was I a six-year-old with a camera, I was a six-year-old who couldn’t see with a camera. This was before I got my first pair of glasses, which meant that the world was a series of strange and colorful blurs to me, which sometimes moved. I couldn’t capture what I
saw because it was impossible. No one else saw it that way, and no camera with auto-focus did, either.
We moved to Arizona soon after that and I found myself in a new, unrecognizable, unseeable landscape. Everything was just dusty brown. I didn’t pick up the camera again. Instead I started to draw, which was also disappointing, because I definitely couldn’t get anything to look how I wanted it to. I also started to write — and that one stuck. It’s relatively easy, now, to see why: I didn’t have to make what I saw visually accurate, I just had to use words well enough that people could get the general idea. Interestingly, even then, I connected poetry with visual art. My poems started out with images (mostly about mermaids because, let’s face it, mermaids are awesome), and they still start out that way. Poetry, for me, is and always was a form of seeing, and a way of presenting what I saw — and it was the only way, it seems, I could do that.
The visual arts, however, never quite let go. I always enjoyed drawing (again, mostly mermaids, which are, again, awesome) and, in high school, I finally found a way to take photographs that, well, didn’t make me feel bad about taking photographs. I went to a fine arts school and majored in creative writing, which meant I spent a lot of my time feeling like I shouldn’t be involved in the other arts — but photography was an exception. There were no photography classes and, from time to time, I remember overhearing heated lunch table conversations about whether or not photography could even be considered an art. I definitely didn’t — and don’t — agree with this, but it somehow gave me the permission I needed to take pictures — and so did being on yearbook staff. By my sophomore year, I found myself working as the photo editor. I got a camera, a real camera, a Pentax K1000
I named Beatrice, and had it with me at all times. I was always taking pictures because I finally felt like I had permission to take pictures — and taking candid shots in the lunchroom and at the yearly semi-formal didn’t seem like as big of a deal. Out of a roll of candid shots, maybe only ten pictures, if you’re lucky, will be yearbook worthy. I not only had permission to take pictures — I had permission to fail at taking pictures.
I think that, with any art, or with anything, really, from keeping up with a blog to developing a healthy relationship, this is the most important thing: you have to realize that you’re not perfect. You will fail. You will fail in small ways and medium ways and big, bad, knee-skinning ways. You will fail and you’ll have to pick yourself up, and if you keep trying, you’re probably going to fail again. It’s important to recognize this, and it’s important to let yourself fail. It’s the only way any of us ever learn.
That’s an easy thing for me to say, but it definitely wasn’t an easy thing to learn. When I left for college, I packed up Beatrice and her lenses — and then met my roommate, a photographer who was so amazing my jaw literally, actually dropped the first time I saw some of her work. Then I met her friends, who were photographers, and my friends, who were photographers, and Beatrice lived in the bottom of various closets, gathering dust rather than exposures on a roll of film. I was too intimidated to even try taking pictures. I knew exactly how much I didn’t know, and I was too frightened to learn.
I finally gave myself permission to start taking pictures again about three years ago. Again, I had to give myself permission, and again, it was for a utilitarian purpose. A friend of mine, who’s another intimidatingly awesome photographer, told me about the 365 project. I’d just had a harrowing experience with a medication that obliterated my memory, so I decided to start taking pictures as a way to help myself remember. Since then, I’ve slowly found my way back into taking pictures, always finding a way to give myself permission — toy cameras? They have the word “toy” in them! I can use them! I still know I know very little. I still know that I don’t know a very great amount. I also know that I enjoy it, that it’s become another form of expression, a way to capture small moments of beauty throughout the day. I know, of course, that I’m going to fail and fail again. I also know there’s always another shot.