Joyland

The Midwest |

My Father's Camera

by Shannon Cason

My father left me his camera. It was in a boxy aluminum case with two latches in the front that locked. It also had latches on the side that didn't lock. To unlock it, you'd have to get your fingernail into the little notches of the combination wheel, and flick them to 7, then to 7, and one more 7. And get your finger under the levers and pull. Then the latches would loosen and you could open it. The side levers, just get your finger under those—no combination. The camera was a Nikon F90. Pretty nice camera. It was separated in the case by a deep gray foam. The body. The flash. Two lenses. One was longer than the other. I didn't know much about photography like my dad. I recognized the basic concept: point and shoot. I'm intelligent enough to understand that there was more to it than just that, though. People had careers as photographers, so it had to be more to it than just point and shoot. I thought about what I wanted to shoot. The camera had a wide strap that fit comfortable around my neck. I liked the way it wore. I looked authoritative with the strap around my neck and the camera hanging. I looked at myself for a good while in the bathroom mirror. I stood outside the door for a fuller view. It wore well. I thought, you've got to be creative with this type of camera. I thought, you've got to be more creative than just smile. Or cheese. Maybe architecture or nature. Possibly people, but no smiling. I had an idea. I thought what if I did a series? I thought some more. I thought a good idea would be to shoot everything lying down. There was a guy I saw on TV, he shot everyone naked. Groups and crowds of people naked. He also shot people alone or as a couple. These were just average people. Pot bellies and stretch marks. Naked. Crazy shit. If he'd asked me to do it, I probably would've said "no" then. "No" to being naked for a photo. I thought what interesting shots could I get lying down. You can join in if you like. I could shoot cloud formations. I could get a little bit of the branches and leaves from trees, so the photo would give the impression of lying down. I thought that was boring, but still had merit. I could shoot a baby mobile as if I'm in the crib looking up at it with my parents smiling looking down. I could shoot a woman's titties bouncing and her face agonizing in pleasure as if I'm just below her. I could shoot a man sweating looking down—not me below however. I could shoot doctors. I could shoot the underbelly of a car. I could shoot ceilings. I put the camera away, and it stayed there in the case for a long time. After a long time, I flicked 7-7-7 and opened the case and put the wide strap around my neck and left my apartment. I went downtown. I took pictures of the buildings and the bridge and the water. I laid down on the concrete in front of a tall statue and felt silly and dusted myself off. I got hungry and bored, so I rode the train south back home. On the train, three boys entered the car from the emergency door while the car was moving. They stopped in the middle of the car and asked for everyone's attention. Only a few people looked up. Then they started singing. I didn't know the song, probably their own, but it was good. Better than everyone expected. A woman took her earbuds out of her ears. A man dog-eared his book. The lady took a five dollar bill from her purse and handed it over to one of them. The man gave them a dollar. I dug in my pocket, but had no money just my credit cards. I stood up and asked if I could take their picture. They looked at each other and got into a pose. One folded his arms and another reached out and pointed at the camera and the other just looked cool. I took a couple of photos, while I balanced myself on the moving train, and told them thanks and they went through the other emergency door. I rode the train past my exit on Indiana. I got off at the 79th Street stop. I started taking more pictures. A storefront church next door to a liquor store from across the street. People walking by and cars passing through my picture. A Jamaican restaurant. I thought the colors were original. I walked farther. The sun was slowly descending, in a few hours it would be gone. I walked down a street. Children weren't playing, just standing around. People on porches, sitting and talking. I took more pictures. I asked to take pictures of the kids. Some posed and laughed. I took pictures of the houses and the street. One of the kids walked over to me and said I better stop taking so many pictures. He said it as if he was trying to warn me in a friendly way. I looked down the street, at the kids standing, the people on the porch sitting. I took a picture of them sitting with my father's camera. One of the men got up from the stoop and walked in my direction. He wasn't smiling for my picture. He said, "What the fuck are you taking pictures of, dawg?"