Taking the dusty DSLR off the shelf

May 9, 2019, 1:33 a.m.

My best friend’s house is exactly how you would expect a household of four artists’ children to be—littered in magazine clippings, replete with stacks of thrifted photo books and with not a single bare wall. Therefore, I wasn’t all that surprised to find two random DSLRs sitting in the corner of her room. I knew collaging was her primary medium, and I hadn’t remembered her ever really calling herself a photographer, so I asked:

“Do you, like, use those?”

She laughed and in her cutesy nonchalant way responded:

“Nope, you should take one!”

I laughed, but she gave me that confused puppy dog look, and I realized, dumbfounded, that she wasn’t joking. I immediately lectured her on how ridiculous it was to just offer someone a camera, and how she could rip plenty of people off on DePop if she felt like it. We’d done the standard clothing-sharing and canvas-swapping before, but a camera was an entirely different story.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help myself from playing around with it, so I conducted a thorough search for dysfunctional buttons or a cracked lens, but everything was completely fine. I pretended to take a few pictures because she didn’t have an SD card for it. And even though I vetoed her initial offer, after consulting with her parents, she gave the camera to me as a going-away gift, and it’s been on my shelf since.

I finally found an SD card at the Daily, but despite literally being on the Photo team, I haven’t used it nearly as much as I should. On one hand, I’d like to interpret this as evidence that I’ve been too busy being present and enjoying the moment, but I also acknowledge that whether or not photography distracts you from the moment or enhances it depends almost solely on you. So, to entertain my curiosity, I decided to carry my camera around to at least one event a day for a week and let the chips fall where they may.

I wasn’t mad about the results:

Taking the dusty DSLR off the shelf
Taking the dusty DSLR off the shelf
Taking the dusty DSLR off the shelf

Obviously, I’m no expert, and I don’t see myself becoming one anytime soon. Still, I definitely think that practice makes (close-ish to) perfect, and there’s nothing wrong with pretending to be a photographer before you actually consider yourself one. And using a camera isn’t always a pollution of experience—taking pictures of my friends and family as seen above was a great bonding point, and they loved looking at the photos just after I’d taken them. Not only did I appreciate the beauty of the people I love, but challenging myself to produce material every day made me appreciate the little things far more—the way the sun sparkles on the water, the pose right before “the pose” and even accidental shots.

So if you have a camera, try bringing it along with you to an event or on a spontaneous trip. Even if it feels uncomfortable or awkward, I’d bet that the amount of fun you have with it will surprise you. Life isn’t all idyllic sunsets or flawless models, and not everyone has an eye for precise composition, but that’s not all photography is about. It’s about playing around, hoping for the best and taking the shot even if you think it may not be perfect. There’re plenty of things “wrong” with the pictures I took, but they remind me of the good things, and that’s reason enough for me to keep taking them.

Contact Malia Mendez at mjm2000 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Malia Mendez ’22 is the Vol. 260 Managing Editor of Arts & Life at The Stanford Daily. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, Prose track. Talk to her about Modernist poetry, ecofeminism or coming-of-age films at mmendez 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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