Friday, August 7, 2009

Dead Weight

I have been carrying my camera around constantly lately, but I never seem to take any pictures. For going on almost a year now I seem to have lost my desire to photograph almost completely. I am not entirely sure what the problem is, but I think that a good part of it is that I have been in a type of mourning. In the middle of last year I had a hard drive failure. Correction, a hard drive failure with no recent backup. Correction, a hard drive failure with almost a year gap for any backup. Yes, I know . . . trust me, I know. You can't say anything to me that I already haven't said to myself a thousand times already. The hard drive that failed was my main data drive. It contained pretty much every digital piece of my life that exists - undergraduate assignments and research, my law school papers and outlines, letters to friends, scans of documents, word files and bits and pieces of various writings, all of my converted CDs and the newer digital only music . . . oh yes, and all my photography. Up until late 2006 the majority of my photography had been film-based (with a short foray into digital with a Canon G1 several years earlier). I had been scanning film for quite some time, and had gone back and scanned most of my early film photography as well. For the most part, a lot of that was diligently backed up on CDs, and what I did not have backup for on CD was still there, of course, in the slides and filmstrips that I had archived away. In late 2006, though I started shooting mostly digital, which then very quickly morphed into almost exclusively digital. For whatever reason, I was not very good about keeping backups of this and had not kept any backups of anything shot after about mid-year 2007. Why? I'm not sure, but it essentially boils down to a combination of laziness and complacency. I had hard drive failures before, but had gone a long stretch without one. I was a student on a limited budget and backup drives seemed expensive and besides I had a big spindle of blank CDs that I could use to make backups of all the new stuff I was shooting . . . eventually. Regardless, when the hammer fell, it caught me completely unprepared - no cd backups, no hard drive backups, no online backups of anything other than reduced-size, edited files, nothing, nada . . . zilch. And here is the part of the story that really gets to me. In the months leading up to that hard drive failure I felt like I had taken several of the best photographs I had ever taken in my life. I'm not saying they were going to knock Ansel, Mapplethorpe, or DeCarava off the map or anything, but they did represent what I saw as real progress in my photography. I felt like I had been stuck at a certain level for a long time and that in those last couple of months I had taken shots that showed I was starting to move forward again. Those shots, as silly as it might seem, were proof that I was growing artistically. I was damn proud of those shots. And now, they were gone. I had a few on-line, small, edited versions of some of the photos on a few sites, but the originals were all on that now useless hunk of metal sitting in my computer. I was in denial about the fact that these photographs were lost for quite awhile, quite a long while. I obsessively research data recovery services - expensive, unrealistic, unlikely. I tried every esoteric method I came across on the web to get the hard drive to mount long enough to grab even a few of the recent originals - no dice. I would like to say that eventually I gave up. But - and here I think is the secret to understanding my photography funk for the past year - I really didn't give up at all. I bought a new hard drive. I bought a backup hard drive. I upgraded my operating system so that I could run software that would automatically back up my data every night like clockwork. And then . . . I carefully packed away the failed drive in the box that the new drive had arrived in and set it on a shelf in my office closet - someday, I thought. Someday, perhaps I will spend the money just to see if any of those photos are recoverable. Probably not, highly unlikely . . . but perhaps . . . someday. And then I did not take one single photograph for six months. Since the hard drive failure I have probably, in total, pressed a shutter perhaps a hundred times. Perhaps even less. And some of those shutter clicks were to post stuff on eBay! My wife - the woman who I once, for fear that the film would degrade, had to goad into taking out the 36-frame roll of film she had had in her point and shoot for almost three years to be processed, even though, as she argued, there were still several frames left on the roll - has taken more photographs than I have in the same period. Recently, I have been trying to break the funk. I started carrying a camera around with me again. Right after I upgraded my smartphone to the new iPhone I giddily downloaded a slew of iPhone photo apps that looked "just so cool." (In two months I have taken 3, count 'em, 3 photos with the iPhone, by the way.) But the funk just would not break. The camera stayed in the bag. Or worse, it stayed hanging dead around my neck as I rejected one shot after the next, after the next, after the next. Then the other day I came home very frustrated. I had taken the camera out again to specifically take some shots, but I had taken only a few and hated each and every one. As I sat in my office wondering "What the heck!?" I realized that I was thinking of that old, failed hard drive and bemoaning the loss of those "beautiful," "breakthrough" photographs yet again. What the heck, indeed. It was at that point I knew what I had to do. I got up, went to my closet and took out the box with the hard drive. I went downstairs into the shared basement of our apartment and got out a hammer from the landlord's toolbox. A very nice hammer. A very heavy hammer. I went out into the alley behind our building and opened up the box, taking out the hard drive. I put the hard drive down on the ground, thought for a second . . . and then I beat the s--t out of that thing! Anyone wishing to retrieve data from that hard drive at this point will need a time machine. "It's dead, Jim." It was very satisfying. Is the funk over? Not sure yet, but signs are good. Ironically, I guess I missed the chance to document the hard drive abuse and make this story into a little photo essay. But I do find that I am getting that itch to get out trip that shutter again. I feel like getting rid of that hard drive was the equivalent of cutting the cable on an anchor I did not even know was there. Stay tuned.