Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Driving while phoned

For as long as I can remember I've had a camera beside me while driving. Any time I'm behind the wheel it sits nearby on the center console. My camera is always a temptation, but since Oregon made cell phones illegal for drivers on October 1st, the attraction has grown stronger. Suddenly the outlaw life I've always fantasized is right there at my fingertips, ready to be plucked like a ripe peach. And the appeal of the illicit is well coordinated with life events. I've recently upgraded from a flip-phone to a smartphone. For the first time in my life I can actually make decent phone pictures.

Wheeee! Down the rabbit hole I've plunged. Since the beginning of October, just about every time out I've made photos of the world passing my car. Not only is it great road entertainment, but every push of the button is a minor taboo, a small act of defiance. Take that, system! Best of all the photos are easily deletable. This is a very handy trait because, let's face it, most of these photos don't turn out. Sperm cells might have a higher hit rate.

This time of year the drive-by shooting is great. There is often dew or rain or frost on the windshield before I get in the car. We haven't had snow yet in Eugene, but that'll come soon enough. Whatever the water form, it serves as a built in visual effects filter between me and the world. I think my favorite is frost. The ice crystals are intricate and incredible, and bring the very planet into question. Long flowing drips are nice too. They can lend an impressionist feeling to whatever's behind. Monet's windshield lilies, anyone? Straight rain is kinda meh, often too busy and chaotic for artistic use, although the pitter-patter soundtrack can be relaxing. No matter the weather conditions, my third visor frit is a constant, a good general purpose filter for skies and other upper frame material.

Of course to take full advantage of conditions requires some sacrifice. Using wipers or defrost kills filters quickly, so I try to avoid them while driving. Moving through the world in my unwiped murky icebox it's easy to let my imagination free. I crank up the radio and forget I'm driving at all. Destination be damned, traffic signals be damned! I'm on a photo hunt! If it's just mist or light rain outside I can usually make out the rough features of the roadscape through the sheet of water running down my windshield. The same can happen with dew or interior condensation. Both can be seen through with practice. With ice it's tougher, especially when there's more than a quarter inch or so. It's drivable, but iffy. I've found that if I scrape a small clearing in the side window I can usually see enough of the road and mirror to get by. If I use a fingernail the thin scrape marks can create an interesting frame. I know what you're thinking, and I agree. It's a huge bummer to have that small section missing its filter. But as I said, some sacrifice is required. 

One of the hazards of getting a new phone later in life is that I'm too dumb to figure all of it out. My phone has a "Driving Mode" feature which I can't seem to turn off. Before I can shoot any photos in my car I need to unlock the "Driving mode will turn on automatically while driving" tab on my screen. The swipe button is small and hard to see, so it's sometimes a hassle to do this in heavy traffic or while driving at high speeds. But I manage. Then I bring my phone up above the wheel where I can see the outside world clearly on its screen. The intoxicating call of the pixelated road beckons.

I can use my smartphone camera with one hand but honestly it's easier with two. As I mentioned earlier I don't use defrost or wipers, so my hands are freed up from those chores. With wrists at 10 and 2 o'clock and applied to the steering wheel with pressure, I've gotten pretty good at general locomotion. In fact wrist steering is surprisingly effective. The only exceptions are when I hit a very sharp turn, parallel park, or tow a trailer. Those are tough. That's why I don't have many photos of those situations. But for normal driving wrists are fine. My fingers dangle above the wheel, both hands free to manipulate the phone screen. 

Disclaimer: this style of driving requires sharp focus. If you're not paying close attention you can easily miss photo ops. Sometimes sharp braking or quick acceleration is required to get just the right angle, especially at night or in heavy traffic. Fortunately I've found that most other drivers are pretty good about avoiding me if they see I'm using a phone or driving erratically. After all it's in their interest not to hit me, just as it's in mine. Car photography is win-win, a breeze. I can't help thinking that if everyone shot photos while driving, there'd be no accidents at all. 

When you consider how safe and effortless it is to shoot a phone camera while driving, Oregon's cell phone restriction seems silly. Compared to my Leica, for example, shooting a cell phone is a snap. Oh sure, a Leica's viewfinder plastered to your forehead may allow you to keep one eye behind the camera and one on the road, but that's not an ideal way to drive. You'll miss a lot of photos that way. Worse, a Leica has manual exposure settings and manual focus. That means it requires two hands to operate, plus a good chunk of attention to your immediate proximity. I can't tell you how many shots I've missed while fiddling with my camera settings. And believe me, changing out a roll of film while driving is no picnic. The bottom plate and sprocket with it's tiny film slot —what a bitch. Over time I've gotten pretty good at it (Pro tip: always wait for the straightaway to load film), but only after a few narrow scrapes. Then there's the silly shoulder strap which always seems to get caught in the seatbelt. My cell phone is strapless. Yup, there are a lot of arguments to be made that film cameras should be illegal while driving, not cell phones. 

By that same logic, if the law is going to restrict film cameras, I think it should apply evenly to all the arts. Why is photography always the bad sheep? Restrict painting while driving too. And don't stop there. Sculpting while driving, blogging while driving, ceramics while driving, and group sex while driving all seem pretty dangerous to me. There oughtta be a law. Just sayin'. 

The legal restriction may be a moot point, because unless you're using a very bright flash unit inside your car or swerving more than a normal amount, or driving a convertible, it's very hard to be caught by authorities photographing while driving. They've got other stuff to worry about. High speed sculptors and drunken painters and such. That's probably how Friedlander has escaped the cops all these years. 


Don Hudson said...

Driverless cars will be a game changer

Federico Rubio said...

I am sure Lee would relish that last paragraph.

Nishad said...

Digging the return of the blog!

Vladimir Zharov said...

О да. Купив машину с автоматической коробкой передач, я целый год с снимал через лобовое стекло ночью и днем. Это был интересный опыт.