Excerpt from “Capacity”
by Mark Stevenson
Amelia had gotten into the habit of walking around with the disposable camera tucked into the top pocket of her jacket – a button-up hoodie, autumn-coloured – and also a very thin, ‘slimline’ digital camera, hanging down around her neck. A new Sony thingy, she called it.
This two-camera status had come about of late because of her newest project, which she had tentatively entitled Double-Vision (the title came first): The idea being to capture a specific object or scene simultaneously with the disposable camera and the digital one, but from slightly different angles, or vantage points.
She’ll find her object or scene (a shoe in the street, a street with a shoe in it), and line-up the digital camera, and roll the disposable’s plastic notched wheel to set-up the film, and choose her two angles, and click, and click.
Back in her room at Halls, Amelia imports the digital camera’s pictures for the day into her computer – giving each a name and noting its date, between brief cleanups and New Folder-making, a little light editing. When the disposable’s film was full she’d take it to be developed, and scan those photographs into her computer. All of this process was in the hope that she could in some way (using the copy of Photoshop in the bundle of stuff she got free with the MacBook for her dyspraxia) overlap and fade across the two viewpoints of each scene. She wasn’t a graphic design expert, but she was fairly certain that she could do this.
Amelia wasn’t sure what Double-Vision meant, yet. She’d got into the habit of saying very significantly to herself “Double-Vision,” rather than “the project” – unsure of the title still, she wanted to roll it around in her mouth, feel it out a bit more before committing.
She wanted to try to put into words what she wanted to say: it would have something to do with perception, or perspective, obviously. She thought about how digital cameras are probably clearer and maybe truer than your own vision, because every person had a biased mind but also biased sight, as well. Cameras could capture things just as quickly if not more than human eyesight could, and once they caught a thing they technically, literally, captured it forever; whereas people fade, and memory fades, and becomes fuzzy and “off,” sort-of, in a shapeless way.
Amelia wanted to achieve some strange degree of perspective, an almost 3D image, or at the very least have a more “ghostly” impression in the form of the disposable’s filmic distortions; those chemical unpredictabilities acting as echoes from another angle, juxtaposed w/ the digital’s clearer picture.
While her computer woke up, she tried a little experiment: slowly drawing her hand close to her face and seeing it blur, and holding a hand up to her little digital camera and watching it through the viewing screen on the back, trying to adjust the focus on her eyes and on the camera each time, to see which was sharpest.
And the camera wins, she says, pulling her hand up close to the lens. A camera could focus in on her hand better than she could focus her own brain.
But she’d noticed a level of closeness that neither her eyes or the new camera could capture, where the lenses would both shadow and blur beyond any fixable degree. There was a point where everything got unfocused and dark. Not even the Sony could quite withstand The Hand! she mock-screams covering over the camera’s eye, the little viewer pulling into a blackout. Still, though, the camera won.
And the camera wins . . . a little more deflated, now.
Amelia supposed the disposable camera could signify the human perspective, and the digital could show itself as it was: Clean.
The disposables were messy, they had a sort of visual static, and the prints and pictures would fade and dissolve, eventually. It was the closest thing to capturing the types of faults that human vision might hold. And maybe this was why people seemed to like to use them in pictures, or use film, or wanted to recreate it in Apps and things. An analogue element they wanted to find again.
And then she thought it was weird that human beings couldn’t simply communicate what one person saw plainly in front of them. It was peculiar to her that people couldn’t sort-of ‘click’ like a camera, still the moment where you see a face or a sign or a word, and that an idea or image couldn’t ever be transferred or put into the mind of someone else; it couldn’t ever be conveyed to anyone, from anyone, in any definitive way – that’s what cameras were for.
Thinking like this made her feel stupid and excited, as if she had seen the world the way uninitiated aliens might, psychic aliens, if they came down from wherever and saw all of the humans desperately scrambling around trying to make themselves understood, talking with hands, and sound, with these noises approximated out of the air, the transference of images and real, genuine, plain truth being to the psychic aliens, she imagined, as natural as taking a breath.
At Uni it seemed as if people, in her class, were almost always angry if you told them exactly what you meant, or even a little bit of what you intended, or what you were even thinking about generally at the time. She couldn't ever say that she wanted to have something to say. Some of them really seemed to be bothered by other people’s thoughts, what other people’s thoughts were. It seemed to bore them in a fake way, or make things tense, or unnerve them if you said: “This is what it means.” And so she didn’t write any of this. . .