The best advice I ever got in my life came from a doll.
I am not a photographer, but I happened to find myself with a camera, some dolls, and a hand that hurt from too much drawing.
So I shot 1,547 rolls of film and ended up with a long line of small mistakes. Of the 1,547 rolls of film, 328 were of Myron, the most patient of all the dolls. One day, as we were setting up for yet another photo shoot, I confessed my troubles and asked his advice. Myron, I said, I‘m a bungler. I can’t load film, I can’t attach the lens to the body, I can’t press the shutter without shaking, I can’t figure out all the dials — Myron, I cried — I am blind in the darkroom, and bump into the enlarger, and can’t seem to make it from bath to bath, from go to stop to stay without losing my prints on the floor. Worst of all, Myron, your face is always out of focus.
He said to me then: don’t shoot the face, shoot the story.
What story? I asked. You can tell I was, and still am, incompetent. Myron sighed and told me to bring the hat, the one I had found at the flea market. I did as he asked. He told me to put it on his head and tie it under his chin and wrap the long ribbons around his arms and waist so he could lean back into the darkness of the hat and rest his cheek against the rough wool and learn to see again in the fabulous shadow of his Dream Hat. I did as he asked. And I knew then that this was his hat, the one he had worn and lost and found again over and over for more years than there are pictures in this world.
So I shot his story.
But not the whole story, certainly not the beginning nor the end, just a snippet of the middle, just the part that I could really see. The truth is, I was too stupid to know the whole story, but smart enough to know that I probably never will. Myron’s story is Myron’s story, but once in a while we meet, and sit and chat as storytellers often do.
And all the other dolls that were waiting? I shot their stories too. Little penny tales that I caught for an instant, without beginning or end, just flashes, just the parts that I could really see.
Well you would think that after all this time, after 1,543,982 rolls of film (give or take a few) I would be something of an expert, a big-shot of a photographer, you should excuse the pun. But I am still a bungler. What was wrong before is still wrong so nothing is ever really right. I asked Myron about this recently and he said, look around you. Dolls and stories and pictures are flying all around swooping through this world and that world, up and above and below and beyond all the worlds that ever existed, all an ecstatic flock of Wonder!
I looked. I squinted. Are your sure, Myron, because I am not so sure.
He sighed and said, well I am sure. And he looked me in the eye and said, you may be dumb, and he smiled, but you’re learning.