“Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness.” — Yousuf Karsh
He was very friendly in the beginning, but as the story moved along, it became evident his fun-loving personality was just that -- personality.
His character began to evolve pretty quickly, and by the fifth chapter, his dark side was evident. Looks were deceiving. Of course, this was just great character development by the author of a piece of fiction, but a person’s character in real life isn’t always evident in the first few chapters, either.
A person’s character develops over time, as Karsh compares it to developing a photograph -- in the darkness.
In 2004, Kodak quit making film cameras. That news was shocking to me because a film camera is a classic, and I just couldn’t believe they would stop production. Much as compact discs replaced LPs, so digital cameras have pushed film cameras aside. The computer with word processing programs did that to the typewriter.
But ya know what? I love typewriters, vinyl albums and film cameras. I believe that fancy modern inventions have a place, but the earlier items still hold an allure for me -- and I believe for many others, as well. As we celebrate National Camera Day on June 29, I’m glad to revisit the history of this magical device that brings life to our stories, as well as to reconsider the character of things and people.
Cameras, much like photographs and characters, have been developing for many years. In fact, the Chinese were working with pinhole photography back in 400 BC. It wasn’t until the 1800s that we began to see more concerted efforts at figuring out how to actually save the image being created, though, and in 1888, George Eastman patented the Kodak roll-film camera.
Humans haven’t stopped in their attempts to develop better methods of capturing the stories taking place in the scenes before them, though. As almost every mobile phone has a camera, photography is available to almost everyone.
I love taking pictures and capturing moments. The tear that clings to a cheek holds the story of the fear or uncertainty that a child was feeling just moments before someone successfully diverted his attention. The look of relief on the face of the owner who has found their missing pet says so much more than a few hundred words could adequately convey. Look around you. What stories do you see unfolding?
Developing an eye for the stories to be captured takes time for most of us, and developing character is pretty much the same. You don’t wake up one day and magically know you possess the great character traits such as trustworthiness, honesty, integrity, respect, and citizenship. Someone has hopefully told you that possessing these character traits will help you to be a better person and helped you in your efforts, much as someone had to teach me how to frame a picture so I didn’t cut off a person’s head accidentally in a photo.
Sometimes, though, we like to break the rules in photography to achieve different outcomes, and the same is sometimes true with a person’s approach to character, though the result might not be as attractive.
Sometimes, it seems things are changing in society, as if being an honest, respectful, trustworthy good citizen isn’t as important to people. I struggle with understanding what I see happening at times, so I found it especially interesting to find in my research that others have seen this shift. It seems to correlate with the change in the way society functions - from a producing society to one of consumers.
In Warren Susman’s ”Culture as History”, he says, “The older culture -- Puritan-republican, producer-capitalist -- demanded something it called ‘character,’ which stressed moral qualities, whereas the newer culture insisted on ‘personality,’ which emphasized being liked and admired.” This was the change from the 19th century to the 20th century, and I wonder where we will go from here.
With the strong presence of social media, it seems more noticeable than ever that our society is more concerned with being liked and admired than possessing moral qualities. I wonder if asked to choose, which we would prefer in other people (and ourselves).
I watched a story on “CBS Sunday Morning” recently about Trent Preszler, a man who is making peace and figuring out a relationship with his deceased father by building beautiful boats -- by hand, using his dad’s tools. Watching him work, seeing the craftsmanship that goes into each piece spoke to me, the same way using a typewriter speaks to me, writing with a fountain pen speaks to me, using a film camera speaks to me, and reading a real book speaks to me.
I love technology, and I love the experience of what some would call old-fashioned.
Many in society seem to be in a hurry these days to just get the job done, and that is really helpful in many situations, but I think there will always be something that tugs at us to slow down at times. The Instant Pot is great when you’ve forgotten to make a plan for dinner or just need to cook the rice in a hurry, but there are some soups that taste so much better when they’ve simmered for a few hours. The character of the dish has time to develop, you might say.
Whatever you are doing, I hope you will take a minute when you finish reading to pick up a camera (a phone camera is just fine), and look around for a scene to capture. Maybe it will be the way the sun is shining on the leaves of the trees as it begins to set, or maybe it will be your dog or cat sleeping in the funniest position.
Whatever it is, I hope you will have it printed and keep it to remind yourself that capturing a story, printing a photo, and developing character don’t happen as quickly as we sometimes think. It takes time, effort, and usually encouragement from someone more experienced.
And by the time you get to the end of your story, I hope your character is stronger, kinder and more trustworthy than the scoundrel I found in chapter five.
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (firstname.lastname@example.org).