Camera Ready

A friend recently asked me about cameras. I’m no expert, but after I finished my master’s degree I worked at Ritz Camera for about a year. It wasn’t an ideal job, but I learned a lot.  (Interestingly, I say that about most of the varied jobs I’ve held—janitor to editor.)  The conversation led me to dig out my box of pre-digital photographic equipment so that I could familiarize myself with f-stops and shutter speeds.  Handling my old Pentax K-1000, I reflected on how actual cameras (not that device in your pocket) transitioned from using actual film (which is superior for capturing images) to emulating that experience for the needs of digital photographers. Taking a stunning picture was more than just framing and lighting—it involved manual control.  The modern digital camera will allow the photographer control over things like shutter speed, aperture, and film speed (even if in altered terminology).

At the camera store, as in much of retail, waiting was involved.  Sometimes quite a lot of it.  Between customers coming in—and you had to be ready for that at any time—you had to find ways to amuse yourself.  Some would restlessly straighten up counter displays, restock the film (remember film?) bins, or find something that required putting away.  Most (and this was a young adult’s job) found ways of goofing off.  Immaturity takes a long time to settle into more reflective adulthood.  I often used the opportunity to read through the photography books we sold.  Well, in actual fact, I don’t remember ever actually selling one of those books.  If you’ve looked at the pictures most people take that will be evident.  That’s how I learned the little I know of photography.

At least you could see this kind.

We live in an era of disputing experts.  We like to think that we know just as much as the next guy.  Trump’s bull-headed tenure only made this fashionable.  Photography, on the other hand, no matter whether digital or print, is an art where the truth is clearly evident.  Gifted photographers take better photos.  The rest of us can learn some tips, but we all know when we see a stunning photograph.  We might even question if it’s real.  Although cameras can be made to lie—all photographs are fragments of the past—photography is perhaps the most impartial form of art.  Learning about it can improve results, but the camera is a revelatory device.  In the hands of an expert it can change the way we see the world.


For some today is Good Friday. Others are saying “TGIF!” There’s a basic disconnect that has grown between days of remembrance (okay, let’s just call them “holidays”) and the days required of capitalism. Easter is not generally considered a work holiday. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, coming on a Sunday, it is safely out of the reach of much commercialism. Although, vis-à-vis Christianity, it’s a stronger holiday than Christmas, it isn’t a federal holiday. In a world of religious pluralism, that’s no doubt correct. Still, for those who ponder deeply the tradition that wrought them, shouldn’t we be allowed to contemplate our loss without spending a vacation day?

It will come as no surprise to my regular readers that I often think about the ministry as a vocation. After all, I paid my good money and attended seminary. When I was teaching at a seminary and there was some pressure to move that direction, however, I felt that I was adequately served by daily masses and the opportunity to minister in the classroom. Before those days, however, I trudged into work in Ritz Camera in Brookline, Massachusetts, on Good Friday wearing black and feeling depressed. From long habit I wished to be in church. From financial necessity I stood behind the counter and smiled. Good Friday is that way. It’s hardly a holiday when loss lies all around. It’s a bleak day, one might say. Few bosses who don’t feel the depth of symbolism can quite understand. Work week interruptus.

No doubt it’s vain of me to try to encapsulate this into words. As a culture we prefer the bright, sunny colors of Easter—a holiday with considerable spending but without loss of work efficiency. We should be smiles all around. “Smiles, everyone! Welcome to Fantasy Island!” But we can’t get there without going through Good Friday. Meanwhile, those who don’t observe the day are glad that it’s Friday. Not exactly a holiday weekend, but a weekend nonetheless. Have we outgrown Good Friday? I should think not. For although we bring our cheery flowers and bonnets out for all to see, we all know that Monday is just another day at work.


Heaven Forbid

Cars can be a nuisance—they consume resources, pollute the environment, and have a habit of being very expensive to repair. We’ve been pretty good about taking our car in for its regularly scheduled Toyota check-up. Since the garage is several miles away and my wife and I both work, it is often a matter of the one who can most easily work from home the day of the car doctor appointment taking it in. Our Toyota dealer has in-store wifi for those who can’t live without the internet. For some of us, work is almost exclusively internet. So it was that I drew the short straw and dutifully drove out to the dealership. I was pleased that my VPN connected so easily; this was going to be a snap. I was working happily away when I had to find somebody on a university website. I googled the name and clicked. I received a forbidden website message (copied below) explaining tersely: “Block reason: Forbidden Category ‘Religion’.” I tried again on the Society of Biblical Literature website—same message.

ForbiddenReligion copy

Now I can understand workplaces blocking pornography sites, and even Facebook (I found the latter to be blocked at Toyota some time ago, but I’ve never tried the former), but religion? I am a religion editor. How am I to work when I can’t access websites that contain the word “religion”? The more I pondered this—I could still check my email, and do VPN-type work with files from the office—the more it bothered me. On the television in the background inane daytime talkshow hosts were interviewing someone who’d written a book about God. How many more businesses out there are biased against internet religion? That means my blog is blacklisted along with the scantily clad and overly chatty. I fully support the disestablishment clause, but I also subscribe to the freedom of religion. Smirks aside, there is a serious undertone to all of this.

I have no desire to be proselytized at work. I also agree that it is the right of others to expect the same. Sometimes, however, a little religion might help work go down like a poppinian spoonful of sugar. One time when I worked for Ritz Camera in Brookline, Massachusetts (I seem to have a knack for working for businesses that are on the way out), I had a tough day. Some of our customers could be quite abrasive, and since the customer is always right, we had to take personal insults with a smile. One lunch-hour I told my manager that I needed to recoup my moxy (I didn’t use those words). I ducked out the door and stomped to the first church I could find and asked if I could just sit in the pew for a few minutes. The church secretary, a complete stranger to me, said “of course.” Ten minutes later I returned to work collected and able to face more unreasonable customers for the rest of the afternoon. Maybe it wasn’t religion, maybe it was only the calm of sitting in what some believed to be a sacred space, but my capitalist company got better performance out of me that day because of it. Ironically, at Toyota, my religion editing is cast in with the tax collectors and prostitutes. Only the tax collectors, I’m pretty certain, are always permitted to work.