Photographer in Search of a Subject: Short Story by Mary R. Davidsaver

Editor’s note: This story won honorable mention in the “Write Your Own Lesson in Manners” contest. The challenge was to select from a list of prompts from the book A Lesson in Manners and write a story using those items.

It’s the last day to come up with an entry for a writing contest. I promised myself I’d do this . . . but what do I say? How can I make up my own lesson in manners? Me, the one who never made it past learning one napkin fold. Okay, two, if you count a simple fan. I have a list of prompts. Helpful? Sure. I can follow rules.

I start by picking “photographer in search of a subject.” I have a camera. I take pictures. I can relate. But really, this fits in more ways than just me casting about for an idea. I bought my first camera to take cat photos in the apartment I settled into after leaving the college dorms. Those rooms were no more than bunk beds, a sink, and a communal bathroom down the hall. My apartment got me a real kitchen and a private bath. The cats came later.

With my brand new Instamatic camera I got real pictures, tangible things produced by exposing coated film to light and then having some processing lab turn out a physical product. You can do that with today’s digital cameras if you want, but it’s too easy to stop at an image on a screen. Less expensive in the long run, but your hands are empty and the walls are bare. Would exposed stretches of blankness be considered mannerly?

The second pick is more difficult. I have to choose between “art museum” and “art gallery.” I find inspiration in both places. The museums are heavy into the past, and after doing some research into the prevalence of art forgeries I have to wonder who’s been taken advantage of the most: the collectors, the museums, or me the viewer. I like art galleries because of the freshness, the novel perspective, and the twist of a pun that doesn’t need a docent to interpret for me.

So my photographer will probably go to a gallery. I’m sure this person will be able to act in a mannerly way in public. But will it create tension, conflict, or interest? Going to have to do something about those manners.

For the third pick, I have to go with “ivory-billed woodpecker.” It’s the only animal on the list. (I’m not considering babies or plants.) After all these years I still have a soft spot for a cat photo. Good doesn’t necessarily enter into the equation. I do draw the line at Facebook cat videos. I came way too close to a computer disaster watching those. I learned my lesson. But it’s like giving up eating glutinous foods—I remember the taste and the satisfying texture of my former favorites. I think they call it mouth feel and I suppose it’s another marketing trick. Perhaps another type of forgery. Where are the manners in that?

Time is wasting and I have to sit down and write my lesson in manners. I’m sure I can think of something.

About the author

davidsaver headshot Mary Davidsaver is a retired jewelry designer who has written for local newspapers since 2007. She is a member of the Midwest Writing Center and has won two Iron Pen first place awards. In 2013, she was the first local writer to win the Great River Writer’s Retreat Contest. Her first novel, a cozy mystery titled Clouds Over Bishop Hill, has just been published by Midwest Center Press.

ivory bill


Photographer in Search of a Subject: Short Story by Mary R. Davidsaver

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