By Sheryl Van der Leun
Sunday, September 7, 2003; Page B03
LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.
This past summer, I almost lost my husband, the man I love desperately. Not in a car crash. Not to SARS. Not to another woman, and no, not even to golf.
Tragically, I almost lost him to digital photography. I was just this side of becoming a digi-widow. Day after day, night after night, the camera was his de facto companion. He'd be out at all hours, his Nikon Coolpix 5000 strapped around his neck, lens cap dangling, hand intimately caressing the case, thumb ever-quivering above the shutter button.
In the old days, when it was just film, it was never this bad. Back then, he would take pictures like a "normal" person. A roll here. A roll there. But once he started dipping into pixels, well, it was like Fast Times at Digital High.
At first, it seemed like a cheap fix. Virtually limitless exposures. The end of trips to that expensive print lab. But soon the costs mounted. To support his growing habit, he bought a new printer, professional-quality photo paper, extra rechargeable batteries and then, the Holy Grail of media storage devices, a 1-gigabyte compact flash memory card. Enough for weeks and weeks of clicking away.
And click away he did. He amassed literally tens of thousands of images. He took photos of anything and everything -- animal, vegetable and mineral. People, places and things. (Many of them quite brilliant, I might add.) What was it like, living with the digitally obsessed?
I never knew when I might be blinded by a flash.
"No, dear, I wasn't shooting you, it was the exquisite texture of the drops against the porcelain in the shower stall that caught my eye."
Leaving the house, he'd catch the reflection on the doorknob.
"Oh, that leaf. The inherent beauty, the absolute perfection."
"Wait, don't get in the car yet. The juxtaposition of the antenna against the garage door -- it's fantastic."
Click. Click. Click.
The Coolpix went everywhere: on errands, on walks, to my son's school, to the grocery store, even to dinner at restaurants -- nothing was off limits. It got so bad that I carried a book wherever we went, since I never knew when he'd flip open his LCD monitor to review his latest cache. Every other year, I couldn't wait for our summer vacation. This year, I dreaded it.
When he wasn't snapping pictures, he was uploading them. When he wasn't uploading, he was editing. When he wasn't editing, he was enhancing. He became a devotee of Photoshop. And Photoshop became his mistress.
Sometimes he'd take his first image of the day before he'd even had a cup of coffee. Often, the camera was the last thing he touched at night. I'd beg him to come to bed and he would say, "Just as soon as I've finished this one last shot." He'd eventually stumble in, long after I'd cried myself to sleep.
I knew he had truly crossed the line between passion and obsession when he started taking shots inside movie theaters, clicking away at the screen. And then checking out the results during the movie, oblivious to the spectacle of the LCD monitor's bluish glow. I'd slink down in my seat, sure that at any moment he'd be pelted with popcorn, the target of moviegoers trying to reclaim the dark.
Oh, I tried not to let on that I was anything less than enthusiastically supportive of his new love. But my wifely indignation flared, I confess, when we found ourselves in the midst of the proverbial bevy of babes at the beach on the Fourth of July, and he clicked away with admirable consistency, practically knocking me aside at one point to get a better "angle." At least I didn't toss the camera into the ocean. (I tried, but he was too quick for me.) To my dismay, the obsession only grew. He started hanging out with a rowdy crowd -- online, that is. His new friends -- he found more than 50,000 of them on Fotolog.net -- shared his passion for digital images. We were drifting further and further apart.
I knew we needed help. But I didn't know where to turn. I wished there were a 12-step program for digiholics. Why shouldn't there be? There's one for just about everything else. Desperate, I called one of my husband's closest friends, who agreed to intervene. He confronted my husband -- who admitted he was powerless to control his obsession -- and not so gently shoved him on the road to recovery.
But I knew that it wasn't going to be that simple. I had seen the gleam in my husband's eye. So I did what any smart woman would do to save her marriage: I fought back. I went shopping and bought my own digital camera. Plus, I signed up online for not one but two Fotologs -- upgraded "Gold Camera Patron" accounts at that. Let my husband take out his Coolpix, and I'll match him frame for frame.
And wouldn't you know it? As soon as I got involved in digital imaging, he lost interest almost immediately. So now I'll be able to spend a lot more time with him -- if I can just catch him between the blogs that he's now posting every day.
Sheryl Van der Leun, who works on the media relations staff of the California-based Motorcycle Industry Council, says she writes because it's cheaper than therapy.