Light Through a Lens

Light Through a Lens


A grinding whirr hums mechanically. A steady semibreve, it emits a four beat pause as it travels up one way, then back down the other. In centimetre increments the picture fills, block by block, a linear jigsaw. The photo reveals itself, magnified, to fill the screen. The grainy quality is more noticeable here, like it’s been placed under a microscope. I adjust the refraction. Sky gives way to sea, five heads bobbing on the horizon, ten feet planted on the shore. They want the image emailed, and we need it online so everyone can see it soon and simultaneously.  

Sand got in my shoes straight away. One step, one sole-full. Hands outstretched creating a chain we looped ourselves into a semi-circle and asked a passer-by if they could take a photo of us. One photo turned into several as various cameras kept unveiling themselves from deep sweetie wrapper filled pockets, and backpack compartments. The photographer’s Jack Russell ran around us in a waterproof tartan coat, keeping an eye on their owner until they were finished. Someone I hadn’t seen since I was small, and couldn’t remember ever meeting for the first time, was trying to say something to me, but the sea snarled in my ears and I couldn’t make it out. My eyebrows zig-zagged from concentration and confusion, and I nodded anyway. Seaweed lassoed shells, some of which I kept later for home. Conches and limpets and iridescent purple ones I couldn’t identify.

The older figure, a great aunt I realised after a whispered enquiry, handed me her film camera once we parted ways back at the car line up. Smiling narrow lipped, she passed its hardy case with a small clap of her hand on top of mine. I realise what I had agreed to. Some in the group had found their images blurred by the time they snuck a look. The wind catching the arm of the stand-in photographer perhaps, or a droplet of sea salt water slinking under the lens. It was a surprisingly nervous wait for the developed film to return, not knowing for a few weeks after the trip how it would look. Once picked up, patience and impatience had a skirmish, wanting to savour every photo yet racing to see which ones had turned out okay.

I zoom in close on the lower third, having mildly adjusted brightness and contrast, minor compensations. There’s a blot of… something incongruous, out of place. I remove the photo from the scanner and check the glass, but it’s within the photo, there, a brail-like speck. When I slip my index finger lightly over it, it’s smooth and flat and flush with the rest of the surface. The negatives slide easily out of their envelope followed by the roll of the film encased in plastic. The lid pops off at the nudge of my thumbnail, and a tiny grain of sand rolls onto my hand.