A Phone Is Not A PhoneWednesday, September 15, 2010
I may be a bit rusty with my memory but surely Nick Charles (William Powell) must have surely sat down in a spiffy restaurant with Nora Charles (his Thin Man wife Myrna Loy), martinis close at hand, and had a waiter come to the table with a phone who would say, “Mr.Charles it's for you.” There is nothing in our 21st century technology that can match that feeling of luxury and importance, even if phones now tell us, with a sexy voice, where we can find the closest deep-dish pizza en route in our Honda Fit or can imitate the sounds of flatulent humans. A phone is, simply, no longer a phone. It is more and perhaps because of it, less.
But there are some machine/objects that in spite of progress remain virtually the same. One such object is the photographic camera. It is said the Leonardo discovered the magical properties of the camera obscura which was a box that perhaps had a pinhole, unless Leonardo had used a primitive lens. This magic box would project, upside down, a Vinci pastoral scene on the other side of the box. Leonardo would have used oiled parchment as a screen as ground-glass (vidrio esmerilado) had not been invented.
The camera to this day has remained the same in that a camera is:
1. A lens.
2. A box even if it snazzy polycarbonate material mated with titanium)
3. A light sensitive sensor or film in the back.
Even my Epson scanner meets those requirements as the lens is really an array of lenses attached to a long pencil shaped (two of them) CCDs (charged coupled devices). The light sensitive “material” is my computer that interprets the readings of my scan.
Today, for the first time in years, I am giving a private photography lesson to what seems to be a pleasant middle-aged man who wants to go beyond the basic knowledge of the workings of a digital camera. He wants to learn about portraiture.
My wife was my Gunea Pig last night. “Rosemary see this slot which is at the focal plane of my 35mm camera? It measures 24mm by 36mm. If you use the Pythagorean formula you will find out that the diagonal is about 43mm. When you focus this normal lens (50mm) to infinity and measure the distance from the film plane to the optical centre of the lens you get about 50mm!” She looked at me with amazement and told me, “You are not going to attempt to teach your student this! He simply wants to learn to take portraits.”
I do not believe the story that has been circulating for most of the 20th century that the Australian aborigines somehow never connected the act of sex with the resulting pregnancy and production of children. It seems to me that when one presses the shutter of a camera one should know the antecedents and the consequences.
My student will learn about that diagonal, after all a camera is still a camera.