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ZoŽ Moon

 Thereís a mythical story about an artist who completes a statue of a maiden and, stepping back to contemplate his work, falls madly in love with her. The gods who, in those days at least, were often as whimsical as people, took pity on the poor sculptor and brought the statue to life. Last evening I was wryly amused to even think of the story after I had spent the evening at my computer working with a snapshot of my own great-granddaughter. Added to the fact that her name is ZoŽ Moon Bean (and it doesnít seem possible that her parents didnít think of ZoŽ Moonbeam when they named her) is the photograph itself, which shows a little girl in her Easter finery, picking flowers.

Iíve had little contact with ZoŽ in her five or so years of life. Her parents are in the military, and ZoŽ was born in England , and now lives on the other side of the continent. Her grandmother, however, has sent me lots of photographs of all three of her granddaughters, so I have gained a sense of these babies growing into beautiful girls in just a few years. Iíve even posted their pictures on the Internet for the world to see.

It was a typical snapshot, taken in the shade of a tree and bearing a bluish cast. The girl was not even looking at the camera, instead being absorbed in something in her hand, a bug not being out of the question. Her other hand clutches the handle of a colorful basket in which rides a toy rabbit. No doubt her mother didnít have in mind that her daughter might be sitting in the dirt under a tree when she dressed her that morning, but that is the way of mothers and young daughters.

The photograph is a couple of years old, and as I said, one of many. I happened to be sorting through computer files of photographs, struggling to keep them organized, when this one popped out at me, asking for my attention. My organizing task was set aside. (Distraction is as often a gift as it is a nuisance when one reaches my age.) It had apparently been cropped from a larger photo, and lacked much detail. An ordinary snapshot, a souvenir of a bright spring day that eventually will find itself in a grandmotherís album when the subject has grown up and produced children herself.

As I worked with the photograph, it took on a life of its own. It wasnít the right shape, being cut off at the top, and the girl is dimly lighted. To attempt to print it at a size that would reveal much about what she is doing would result in a grainy, blotchy image with indistinct detail. Still, it tugged at my sleeve. ďNotice me,Ē it pleaded.

Years ago, when I worked (and played) in a traditional darkroom, it was nearly always with black and white images. Color photography was beyond my technical and financial abilities. That didnít lessen the appeal of the process for me, however. I spent many hours of many years, watching images appear magically in trays of chemicals that smelled of acetic acid. My fingers were stained brown from silver salts. The aesthetic results of all those hours were not memorable. The psychological results, however, have stayed with me all my life.

Thirty years ago I learned, and used in a magazine article I was writing, a wordóubiquitousóin referring to what we called in those days ďthe microcomputerĒ to distinguish it from the room-filling monsters used by large companies and the military to do their momentous number crunching. To most people, they were curious little machines assembled like tinker toys by introverted young people fascinated with the almost unimaginable potential of ones and zeros. What was also unimaginable to me then was the true ubiquity that personal computers have come to possess. And the limitless range of their applications. I was delighted that I could record my thoughts and produce pages of words, infinitely variable, forever changeable. Only in the past few years has the ability of the personal computer to manipulate images become real to me. I have replaced my dimly-lit and smelly darkroom with a colorful computer screen.

And Iíve discovered that a simple snapshot, translated into ones and zeros that allow all that infinite variety and malleability, can become something more than a dim, memory jogging shadow pasted in a grandmotherís album. It was no longer a flaw in the photograph that the detail was hidden in grainóit could be converted into a misty blur, as indistinct as the memory it represented, as full of potential as imagination itself. The bluish cast could be changed with a keystroke to a warm and human atmosphere, sunny as the girl herself.

The snapshot becomes an icon, rimmed in pink like the flowers and bows on the little girlís dress. The mythical sculptor who falls in love with a stone he has shaped into a likeness of his imagination has become a dottering old man, playing with ones and zeros, fascinated by the blurry but rich imaginings of childhood memory, responding to the plea, ďNotice me.Ē

 

Donald Skiff, December 28, 2003

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