Oh, the scenes it and I have seen
It has been dropped, rained on and subjected to the broiling heat and high humidity of a Florida summer, but it has remained faithful throughout many years of my traipsing about.
It has covered an eclipse, tropical storms, slide shows at conferences, high noon in the Florida scrub (108 degrees) and a rare winter freeze.
After many years of use, the big red map book I use to navigate Florida in places without cell towers is in tatters. Not so the Panasonic Lumix. It rarely gets rave reviews on the internet. There is nothing trendy about it. It is out of date — and a duplicate. Ten years ago, the first one I bought was so good — it has a Leica lens — I ordered another. I have been working the spare for years now.
A real workhorse, it adjusts to changes in the light, which varies constantly in Florida. Distance is never daunting. A subject may be high up in a tree — or just a couple of inches from the lens. It sees things I miss: a bee pollinating a flower, a bird entrapped in fishing line and, once, a snake slithering up a pine. It does my bidding even when I do not ask!
In another lifetime, I stuck to the assignment. My photo editor at the D.C. paper gave me these instructions: Fill the frame; bracket; ID the subjects. God forbid should I get back to the office empty-handed. There would be a hole on the page.
At first, I used a friend’s Rollei. Photo fare was urban and political: LBJ’s midriff, for example; and occasionally cultural: Nureyev and Fonteyn dancing. And though I did not know it at the time, historical: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Mall. (It was so crowded I could not get close to him, but I could hear his voice.)
In November 1963, I could not bear to photograph the events following JFK’s assassination, but stark images remain with me: Emperor Haile Selassie dwarfed by Gen. de Gaulle following the caisson down Connecticut Avenue.
Just once in that era, Mother Nature was allowed to shine. I sold my editor a shot of a little girl lying in a bed of flowers at Rock Creek Park.
Now my subjects are flowers and trees along weedy roadsides, edges of industrial parks, the railroad tracks, pastures out east, undeveloped parcels on the Ridge, rivers, parks — and the beach, of course. Animals — becoming noticeably fewer — are closer to the heart of my work. I think of my camera as a faithful friend, as I do my van, which I have named the Green Hornet.
Memories of missed opportunities plague every photographer. Mine was an assignment to photograph the arrival of the Beatles in America! I lost out to the AP guy! Recently, it was alligators so thick in a river I could have walked across them. And “Irma.” Even using a tripod I could not steady the camera. It helps to be heavy in a hurricane.
Sometimes I will run into a guy loaded down with cameras, lenses, filters, tripods. My camera is so small, so light, so inconspicuous, I could probably sneak it into the Oval Office. Not that I would ever leave Florida! I am wedded to the nature of this place. For now, there is still beauty around and my camera keeps on recording it.