An inclination to invest inanimate objects with thoughts, feelings, and personality seems to be one of humanity's more indelible characteristics; what you might call an animistic cast of mind. It takes a far sterner rationalist than me to bin a favourite cup when its handle comes off, for example. Eventually I will do it, but there needs to be a suitable period of mourning first, while the cup lies in state on a shelf. Most young children, of course, seem to inhabit a permanently liminal world, where consciousness swirls in and out of things like a tide.
My daughter was particularly susceptible as a toddler, occasionally entering a state we referred to as "goggling", which involved holding her breath and trembling visibly in an open-mouthed, wide-eyed stare of rapture, as (we presumed) the toys arranged before her came to vivid life. She was our little living-room shaman. That animistic tide keeps going out much further as we grow, of course, until the edgy moment arrives so hilariously (and poignantly) captured by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: "Mummy, teddy's stopped breathing!"
But the idea that certain categories of thing acquire a personality in use is not just a vestige of childhood enchantment. New instruments need to be "played in" to develop their tone, and the quality of their final tone may well depend on the quality and character of their initial playing-in. What could be more full of personality than a pair of old shoes, and more devoid of personality than a pair of new ones? And who does not keep an assortment of pebbles, conkers and the like in their coat pockets, that gradually over the years acquire a deep patina and "pocket polish"? Ah, OK; just me, then.
I am convinced that cameras, too, exert some kind of influence over the pictures that emerge from them that far exceeds their mechanical functioning. You have to meet a camera half-way, get to know it, persuade it to do its best for you. Have you ever noticed how awful the first batches of images from a new camera are? You can set it on "auto everything" or on full manual, you can even use a cable release, spirit level and tripod in extremis, and still get rubbish. Blurry, over-exposed, poorly-composed rubbish. Yet, a few months later, if you've played it in nicely, you can forget to check what settings you're using, and you and your camera will still get your act together -- magic begins to happen.
I'm just about reaching that point with the used G3 I bought late last year. In some weird way, I had to exorcise the ghost in the machine installed by the previous owner, who had clearly not
liked the camera; after all, he'd sold it on "priced to sell" not long after he'd bought it. It's a bit like buying a dog from the kennels: it takes time for an abusive or unloving owner's traces to be erased. Sounds nutty, I know.
The opposite case is a disenchanted object. Sometimes, in the back of a cupboard or the depths of a drawer, you'll come across a keepsake, or a forgotten item once in everyday use -- a cigarette lighter, a pen, a postcard. You'll look at it, and remember why you kept it, but wonder where the magic went. The ghost has finally gone, and you can safely bin it.