17 October 2017

Engage the Fear Machine

The textbook definition of a phobia is "an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.”

To me, the key word there has always been irrational. For someone living in the Midwest, I’ve found fear of sharks to be a bit silly, but I know several people for whom it’s a real thing. For me, the two biggest ones are spiders and heights. There’s nothing to be said to change my mind in either case. I know people keep spiders as pets, and I assume they’re very happy together. And there are people that make great (fantastic, even!) livings walking high steel or not-so-high roofs putting on shingles and whatnot. But both of those ideas are beyond the realm of conceivable to me.

When I talk about irrational, for me that means that seeing a spider, even a little one, makes my pulse race and my blood pressure spike. There’s no reason for it. I could step on it and end the ‘threat’ in about two seconds. But knowing that logically doesn’t help at all when all those subconscious, animal-based fight-or-flight mechanisms start firing off. The same thing with heights: I get very wobbly standing on something as small as a step-stool. There’s a very low likelihood of injury falling from a height measure in inches, no feet, but the fear still fires up.

But slap a camera in my hand, point me toward a shot, and tell me “do what you need to and make it happen” and things change. Today at lunch, I was killing time and grabbing some random shots of some fall blooms on some flowers when I caught some movement. I took the camera down and noticed there was a small little spider on one of the petals, obviously protecting his home. No matter how small, my typical reaction would have been to step back and move on, letting him rule that roost. But I had my trusty Canon, and all I could think was “Oh! You’re gonna pose for me??” and I started shooting again.

I’ve been known to climb five flights of stairs (exercise isn’t a phobia, but it’s something I avoid when possible!) to get to a rooftop, lean out over the edge, and get a shot of a party in the street below. Rather than worrying about who below will end up wearing whatever I’d eaten in the previous 48-hours, I mostly just worry about not dropping my camera….and making sure my lens cap is off.

I’ve read photojournalists talking about this sort of thing. Seeing the horrors of war through a lens lessens the impact, not because they’re callous and unfeeling, but because it has to. You can’t do that kind of kind of job and not separate yourself from it to a degree. I’m not comparing me taking photos of flowers with spiders on them to the ravages of war, but I think it’s the same concept. The lens, the camera, becomes not just a tool but a filter. It’s not a conscious choice, not for me, anyway (and far be it from me to speak for anyone else!). It’s more that when I lock in on something I want a shot of, I stop worrying about other things. I stop thinking about the spider, or the fall, or the derby jammer that’s falling and the skate coming at my head, or the pyro blast going off a few feet away on stage. I’ve got my camera, I want the shot.

Everything else will just have to wait.

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