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Through the Viewfinder
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 • Posted March 28, 2014 10:42 AM

Back in the 1950’s my father bought what was then a top-of-the-line 8mm movie camera. He turned all kinds of family activities into motion pictures. Those old silent movies include, but are not limited to, car washing, snow shoveling, Christmas present openings, weddings, elementary school parades, trips to the mountains, deer hunting… and Mom’s flowers.

Now, everything else turned out just fine but close-up movies of Mom’s roses were never properly centered. My father would get very frustrated. “I don’t know what’s wrong!” he would complain. “I center the flowers in the viewfinder using the close-up lens and yet I always cut the blooms in half!” I don’t recall that he ever figured out that what he saw in the viewfinder was not what the camera lens saw. The viewfinder and the lens were not one and the same. When taking in a grand scene or even shooting a family portrait, the small difference between the two did not matter a whole lot. But when shooting a close-up, the difference was magnified.

Single lens reflex (SLR) cameras use flip-up mirrors that allow the photographer to see through the camera lens. And now digital cameras that allow you to see what you are shooting on a built-in screen, have pretty much solved the problem that confronted my Dad. But in many respects, the problem still exists in society at large. Often what we think we are seeing is not necessarily what is real. Our prejudices, our cultures, our social strata, our upbringing, our religions, languages, nationalities and even moods, can and do color the viewfinders through which we see the world. Sometimes just plain stubbornness can taint reality.

Once upon a time, I heard a woman’s story, the source of which I do not remember: “We were rentin’ a little furnished house. I worked all day gettin’ the house all cleaned up. Baked cookies. Did the wash. It was one of those days. Anyway, I was beat. So, I sit down on the couch and propped my feet up on the coffee table and started readin’ my magazines.

“Well Big John comes home from work mad as heck at the young, cocky foreman he’s workin’ for, so he takes it out on me. He had stopped for a few beers and picked up a six-pack on his way home. He walks in and wants to know why I’ve got my feet propped up on the good coffee table. I told him not to worry about it-- it was rented. And he said, ‘Don’t talk back. Take your feet down off the table.’ I said no. And he said, ‘You’d better.’ And I said ‘You take them down for me.’ And he said, ‘Like heck!’ And he yanked that table out from under my feet, went to the front door and threw the coffee table right out into the middle of the front yard.

“I didn’t say a word. I got up, grabbed his six-pack and walked over and threw it out in the front yard. Big John didn’t say nothin’. He walked over, unplugged the floor lamp and tossed it out. So I grabbed the two wedding pictures off the wall and threw them out. He threw out the chair and I threw out all the toss pillows off the couch. We just kept throwin’. Never said a word. More we threw out, the madder we got. Finally, we got to the couch and it took both of us to throw it out. By the time we emptied the living room, we were both so tired we just stood there on the front porch tryin’ to catch our breath.

“Then we looked at one another and I laughed. And he laughed. We both started laughin’, said to heck with it. Left everything in the yard and went up to bed.”

Marital discord or marital bliss? When all’s said and done, it’s just a matter of how you look at it through the viewfinder.


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