"I mean, they aren’t terrible,” Sam helpfully supplies.
Sighing, I brush my bangs from my eyes and lean deep into my seat, away from the computer. “They are all tilted or blurry, and you didn’t even look at them. You don’t need to make me feel better, I know what quality is.
Biting his lip, Sam looks up from his textbook, “C’mon Glynn, they can’t all be bad,” he leans over my shoulder, “See, this one’s pretty clear.”
“Yeah, a clear shot of my thumb. Just admit it, this is as hopeless as I said it would be. I just can’t hold the camera steady. Damn ET.”
ET as in Essential Tremor, a disorder I got from my grandmother. From what I can tell its only job is stopping me from pursuing my only interest, photography as it limits my ability to hold a camera steady, or sometimes hold it at all. I mean, it doesn’t stop me from trying, but usually results in photos that could have been taken in 1890, which isn’t great if your future is based off taking pictures. Right now, Sam and I are trying to put together my portfolio, but we overlooked the basic need of good photos.
“What even was the point of paying for a major that I can’t even use,” I say grouchily, slumping back into my chair and shoving it away from the table.
“Maybe it’s because you haven’t found the right inspiration yet,” He glances around my apartment, “If this is what you are surrounded by all day, I can’t blame you.”
He really isn’t wrong, my room is pretty bare, with ordinary white walls and a single bookshelf filled with textbooks being the only furniture apart from my bed and desk. In my defense, I only moved to Massachusetts to attend the College of Art, and I wasn’t really expecting to get into it. Again, ET makes it difficult to shoot photos, but I guess they were inspired by my story, or whatever, and here I am, four months into the school year, unable to complete the first important assignment.
“I have an idea,” Sam speaks up, snapping me out of my thoughts, “What if we get out of here. There’s a sandwich shop like two blocks away.”
“Why Sam, are you asking, me on a date?”
He gives me a blank look, “Do you want food or not.”
“Yeah actually, let’s go.”
“Ok, so I have a theory,” Sam pipes up from over a latte, scrunching his nose as it burns his tongue, “What if you just haven’t found your theme yet?”
I look up at him, chewing my veggie sandwich, “What do you mean?”
“Well, portfolios usually stick to one theme, right? Like all sunsets or city horizons or whatever? What if you aren’t taking pictures that fit your portfolio?”
“You could be right, I guess. I was trying to stick to nature closeups, but I can’t focus the camera.”
“Could you change your focus? Start putting together a portfolio for something different. Like all portraits of different people.”
I snort, “What different people? I literally only know you, and while you are fine, I don’t think I could do an entire folder of just pictures of you.” Don’t get me wrong, Sam isn’t ugly, with his curly brown hair and face covered in freckles, but there’s only some many times you can see one person’s face before it becomes unoriginal.
“You could photograph yourself.”
“I’m like the most generic person out there. Put me in a room with 20 other people with black hair and brown eyes and you wouldn’t be able to tell us apart. In fact, that should be my headstone once my mom finds out I failed this project: Glynn Williams- Her only noticeable feature was her tremor.”
Sam frowns at my attempted humor, but it’s not too far of a stretch. My mother doesn’t really believe in failure. In her eyes, whenever I drop something or spill a pitcher of water, I am not trying hard enough, as if ET is something I can get rid of by trying harder. It’s why she pushed so hard to get me to this school. She was ecstatic when I was accepted. I just went because I didn’t want to see her look of disappointment. My father doesn’t care nearly as much, but I have a different set of problems with him. He is a workaholic who is always travelling, I don’t see him much. I almost wish I could go with him, maybe get some rad shots of the sceneries, but every time I ask, he says he would be too busy to go with me and didn’t want me going myself. I promised them both that I would actually try here, and I can’t let them down now.
“Let’s just move on, we have talked about my photography enough. What’s going on in the land of physics?” I ask.
Sam and I chat for a while, finishing our food, when my alarm blares out, making us both jump.
Sam looks amusedly at my phone, “That should not be able to be that loud for the size of those tiny speakers.”
“Very funny, but that alarm means I have class in fifteen minutes. Gotta run.”
“See you later, Glynn.”
After class, I head back home to make another attempt at piecing together a basic eight photograph collection, yet I struggle with even that. None of the pictures were suitable to present. If it were just the professor viewing them, I could turn them in as is, and take the fail, but the folios will become public, and I already know my mom will be the first to view it. Accepting my fate, I slump onto the bed, the cushions flumping around me, and open my laptop, clicking into Facebook hoping to distract myself, though I don’t pay much attention to what I scroll through.
I wonder if Sam could be right? Maybe I haven’t found my thing yet. There really isn’t a lot of time to fix that though, I only have a week to photograph, edit, and present my photographs on a professional website. I am still pondering this when a post catches my eye. At first it looks like one of mine, with the background completely fuzzing and the light source blurring out, but the main object of the picture, a rose, is in focus, if not a little soft around the edges. It is captivating to look at.
Without meaning to, I scroll down further to read the caption. “Bokeh Style Rose! Credit: @photography_amusments.”
What the hell is a Bokeh style? Why would anyone purposely want their photo to be unfocused? Confused, I open another tab and start researching. And I find the most amazing things.
Apparently, Bokeh is a style where the light source is purposely blurring on the background, and the centerpiece of the photograph is in focus. Usually the light source has the appearance of multiplying. Out of all the photos, the most amazing were where the background was lured and the focus piece was completely black, just a silhouette. The thing is, it seems to be extremely hard to do, and you need a ton of supplies to achieve it. But it looks like one of the only things I would be able to finish and look semi-okay, I’m set on it.
The first thing to do is call Sam. He has lived in Massachusetts longer then I have and can probably direct me to the nearest store that might sell string LED lights, both colored and white. I have to call him three times before he picks up, but eventually he answers.
“Glynn? Are you okay?”
“Sam, I just had a revelation! I am going to do Bokeh photos!”
He doesn’t answer for a moment, “What, in the entire physical realm, is a bokeh?”
“It’s a style of photograph where the background is blurred. That’s like, right up my ally. I need your help though. I have no idea where anything is here, and I need string lights.”
I hear a laugh from over the phone, “How have you been here for four months and still not know where a department store is? Anyways, yeah, I can help you. Do you want me to pick you up?”
“Sure, or we can walk. You live like three minutes away.”
“We’ll drive. See you in twenty, I need to finish this question.”
After hanging up the phone, I am almost bouncing with excitement. I have finally found something I might be able to do. Then I realize, I still need a main subject for my pictures, but I can get to that later.
Sam arrives fifteen minutes later, and I grab my wallet and run out to his car. It’s an old pickup truck that is so well used, you can’t see the original paint color through the thick coat of rust that Sam refuses to have removed. He says it builds character. The tailgate doesn’t stay up on its own anymore, requiring him to bungie cord it to the heavy propane tank that forever stays in the back of his truck because he continuously forgets to refill it. It looks so out of place among the perfectly trimmed hedges of the apartment complex I am staying in.
In fact, Sam’s truck is how I met him. It was the first week here, and I had was walking home from class when he ulled hum in this random, dented pick-up and offered me a ride. Porbaly wasn’t smart to take a ride from a stanger, but here we are.
I hop into the truck, buckling my seatbelt and swinging the door closed in one fluid motion. As always, Sam refuses to play music, saying it is distracting to the driver, so we spend the ride talking about our classes. Well, more like I spend the entire time listening to Sam complain about a group from his physics class.
“I’m telling you Glynn; I don’t think anyone can be any less irritating. His only purpose, as designated by the Devil, is to prevent our group from finishing this project!’
“He sounds very dedicated to this task,” I deadpan.
“Yes! Someone else gets it! I told people—Your being sarcastic, aren’t you?”
I give him a blank look, and he pouts. We arrive at the store, walking into a labyrinth of shelves. Sam must have noticed my momentary falter and gapping expression of wonder, as he smirks and says, “Oh I forgot, in small town, Connecticut, there are no stores bigger than a hotel room.”
“Its Old Saybrook, actually, and we have stores this big there, it just wasn’t…. necessary for me to go to them,” Sam laughs at that, and I grin, “So where are we going?”
“I’ll show you!” he grabs me by the hand, and pulls me, giggling, towards the isle. We stop in front of a display made up of plastic tubes. Inside the tubes, strands of fairly lights were wrapped, to keep them untangled. I grab a white strand, and a blue one, just in case.
“Okay, that’s all I need, we can g—” I’m cut off by Sam grabbing the back of my jacket.
“Nope!” he pops the p, “While we are here, we are getting stuff for your room.”
“I don’t need anything, though.”
He gives me puppy dog eyes.
“Fine, but we are just looking.”
Apparently, we were not ‘just looking’. Sam drops me back off supplied with my string lights, along with a cork board, two landscape prints, and no less than three decorative pillows. Dumping the stuff onto my bed, I grab the lights and reach for a vase my mom gave me when I came here. It will work for practice until I figure out what I actually want to photograph.
I arrange the empty white pillowcase I use for closeups onto my desk and display the lights around the vase. However, no matter what stetting I mess with on my camera, I can’t get it right. The photo either turned out to blurry or not blurred enough. It should have been so easy! Disappointed, I gather everything up and unceremoniously drop it into a corner, before collapsing on my bed ad grabbing the pillows Sam and I got. Bunching them up with my sheets to make a nest, like the ones my mom and I used to make whenever I felt sad. Without ever turning off the lights, I fall asleep.
The ringing of my phone jolts me awake, and I sit up blearily, squinting at the sudden light. Finding my phone in the clutter, I see that is close to midnight, and Sam is calling.
“Hey, Sam,” I say, my voice still thick from sleep.
“Gylnn! Did I wake you up? You sound tired.”
“Well, kinda. But—”
“Ok, so, I was researching your bokeh thing, and it seemed, liked, extremely complicated, and it wouldn’t help with your tremors, his voice turned somber, “Sorry about that by the way.
“Yeah, I know. I already tried it and—”
“Hold on, let me finish,” he sounds excited again, but his interruptions are slighting irritating, though I listen anyways, “I was thinking, the lights you got are waterproof, right?”
“I think so,” is my response, as I stumble through the room looking for the package the lights came in.
“Most string LEDs usually are. But what if we went down to the river, its only like 30 minutes away, and submerged the lights so the water naturally blurred them! Then we could let things float on the water It would make for some pretty cool nature shots.”
I think for a second, trying to sort thoughts through my muddled mind, but eventually it clicks what he’s saying. “I guess we could try that, but not tonight okay. I am so exhausted.”
“Sure, but it would look better at dusk, so what about tomorrow? I could pick you up after class, ‘cause you have that 5:00 lecture, and the sun sets pretty early.”
“Ok,” I say, already turning the lights off and climbing back into my bed, “See you tomorrow.”
I meet Sam just outside campus, and we stop by the Wendy’s drive-through before heading on our way. Any incidents involving French fry theft will go unmentioned. After finishing our nutritious meal of milkshakes and fries, and driving for around 20 minutes, Sam pulls into a small dirt parking lot, with one side bordered by trees. The sun is close to setting, so we could have just enough time to get to the river and set up for some interesting shots.
Sam carried my camera, as I forgot the neck strap, and my tremor was acting up, and I grabbed the other supplies. We reach the river, and I fiddle with my camera, carefully, while Sam arranged the lights under water. Sam suggests we start with something simple, like a leaf floating.
“It would even match the season,” he jokes.
Luckily for us, the sunset that night was gorgeous, and added more light to reflect off the water. We spent almost an hour and a half taking pictures. Sam wouldn’t let me check to see if they were any good, so we just stayed until we ran out of things to photograph. Before leaving, though, I make sure to snap on last picture.
I catch Sam off guard with the flash, and break down laughing as he stares at me, betrayed. On the way back to my apartments, I realize it’s a Sunday. I only have 5 more days to complete this project, along with all my other classes. Somehow, this fact doesn’t stress me out as much as it used to, sure it’s still scary, but now I think I can handle it. Ha, handle. Get it? Cause I can’t hold things. Anyways, after Sam drops me off, not before making me promise to keep trying even if this fails (what a sap), I spend some time picking up the mess I made freaking out the previous day. Only then did I allow myself to plug my camera into my computer and review the photos.
As usual, I scroll all the way to the bottom. This is a habit I have had ever since I can remember: I always start with the first picture I took. The first picture isn’t great, but the second actually looks good. The water reflects the sunset and the lights underneath glow, really showing how the leaf floating on the surface makes the water ripple. Not every picture was perfect, none of them were, but there were some I definitely could use for my portfolio. I think my favorite from that night was one with the blue lights, after the sun had already gone down, so they looked like stars but under the water, and I had managed to capture a paper sailboat Sam constructed out of fast food wrappers. IT looked strangely magical.
That might have been my favorite photo at first, but then I reached the most recent one. The selfie I took with Sam. As I open the picture, I can’t help but laugh out loud. Our faces were unnaturally shiny due to the flash at short range, the frame is crooked and slightly shaken due to me trying to take a selfie with a big clunky camera, and Sam isn’t even smiling, just looking at the camera shocked, while I am half out of the frame. Still snickering, I resolve to get it printed first thing in the morning.
I still had a ton of work to do to put my portfolio together before I can turn it in, half my photos are still unusable, but I made a promise, to my parents, to Sam, and now, to myself, and I’m going to keep it. My camera better keep up.