The Observer, as you may have heard, teaches a course out at the college a few nights a week. Film in one case. It's a lovely thing, introducing folks to movies they may have never heard of, may have heard of but never watched, or watched but never watched in a way that helps them understand what the heck they're really about.

Our final film class was on Tuesday of last week, always bittersweet. As we said our goodbyes and wrapped up, something happened that has played out in some semesters past, not all, but a few over the past 15 years: Two of the exchange students from Asia asked if they could take cellphone pictures with El Maestro.

The Observer is a Large-American, 6 foot 4, heavily goateed and ponytailed, and wears a shirt size with more Xs than pappy's jug. We suspect this may be some of the appeal for the students, who seem to barely reach our elbow. Whatever the case, we aim to please, so we spit on our cowlick and lined up at the chalkboard and then we took photos, all smiles.

What will happen to those photos, we wonder? Have they already been seen on the other side of the world, far from cold Arkansas? They won't wind up in a shoebox somewhere, surely, not like they might have 20 years ago, not in this digital world where everything exists as electricity, a shame, we think.

As for what they'll be used for: The Observer suspects that someday, years from now, there will be mothers all over the Pacific Rim pulling up those photos for their son or daughter, so they will be able to say: Look, child. Here's the proof that, once upon a time in America, your dear old mother took classes from Hagrid.

Speaking of photos, a few weeks back, Arkansas Times photographer Brian Chilson was shooting something with one of his big, old-timey film cameras when we asked if he'd shoot a portrait of Yours Truly. This was out of character for us. The Observer hates to have our picture made almost as much as Brian loves cameras. We have been heard to say: If Junior has to hire a sketch artist when his grandkids ask what his dad looked like, that'll be fine with us. We rationalized our request of Brian with the idea that Spouse would get a photo of her Beloved for Christmas, the gift of desperate husbands everywhere. But the real reason is, we want one good picture before we turn 40 this summer. One good picture should set us for life.

Brian shoots on occasion with the rig a newspaper photographer would have carried in the late 1950s, a big, chrome beast of lenses and levers and bellows and clicking timers, numbered slides and battleship steel. The behemoth shoots to a 4"x5" negative, and Brian processes the film in his bathroom, a red bulb screwed into the fixture. It's quite an undertaking, and a labor of love.

The morning of the shoot, The Observer was Picture-Day nervous. We dusted off our camel-colored car coat for the occasion, the one Spouse likes. A lot of camels had to die for that coat, man. Down to the River Market we went, and there in front of the bars, Brian stood us up beside a park bench, squinted through the viewfinder, and snapped the best pictures of The Observer that have ever been taken.

Our favorite of the bunch is one where we're looking off to the right, away from the camera, hands in pockets, the buildings hazy and sunlit in the distance: Portrait of the Artist as a Youngish Man. Brian's going to make us a for-real-on-this-planet print of that one, the old fashioned way: with light and paper and deadly chemicals.

Looking at the digital representation of that soon-to-exist print, we wonder what the future will make of it. Photos, after all, are a kind of time travel. They exist to transport a tenth of a second into the future, a blink in the life of Abraham Lincoln or Charlie Chaplin or Zora Neale Hurston, little girls skipping rope, backyard barbecues, sinking ships, moments of fear, moments of hate, moments of plain ol' loveliness. Or, sometimes, a moment in the life of a plain ol' newspaper reporter, 39 years old, Little Rock, Arkansas, Planet Earth, Milky Way Galaxy. Happy New Year, friends.


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