Out in the woods with a camera, a sixteen-year-old boy snapped pictures for a school project. The teacher had talked up “unusual perspectives,” so he decided to lie on his back under the trees and survey left to right, right to left. Sun rays poked through the canopy, but he couldn’t get them to materialize on a photo; leaves lazed back and forth and disoriented the boy, but he couldn’t imagine how to capture that in a still shot.
He crab-walked backwards under the brush of saplings. Here, a frog perched on a leaf just above him. The leaf was alive in a translucent bright green, the sun illuminating a boxy geometry, with veiny rivulets of stems, that was interrupted by the lush curves of the frog’s silhouette.
The boy snapped a picture, only to find the whole leaf in shadow. He turned the flash on, but then the auto-zoom shifted and he lost the stark contrasts that had allured him. With the sober diligence of an adult, he switched to manual zoom, double-checked the flash, sat up just the right distance from the leaf and slowly adjusted the focus, until snap.
He admired the photo, only to find that it showed the leaf with a large, vaguely round blur in the middle. “No!” he shouted in disbelief. The frog was gone.
The boy returned to the woods each day, and—while his classmates settled into their favorite sports—he sought out frogs on leaves so that he could get the shot he’d missed.
He passed on dessert with lunch for a year, saving up for a camera that wouldn’t fail him if he ever reclaimed the opportunity. Two rows over from where Chopin Performed by Arau was selling for $10.99 and an aisle down from where journals and stationary and pens were sold for a few dollars each, he found just the right camera.
Week after week, back to the woods, where the leaves changed and dusk came earlier to set the forest ablaze, still looking for a photo opportunity, but he never found an amphibian smaller than a toad.
He researched where more diminutive frogs lived, where he could find them in trees, so that he could go there some day and catch them in just the right pose. Whenever his friends referenced South America—through talk of soccer or drug smuggling or sea bass—he’d interject with rain forest facts, as though this social connection would in some small way get him closer to the picture he’d been after.
The boy collected hundreds of failed shots into a photo-portfolio, while the couple from the duplex below fought, and the girlfriend went to the bathroom to slice her inner thigh, stars of crimson blooming on her jagged tights. The portfolio got him a scholarship to the nearby state school, where he enrolled in the photography department, listed in the directory between philosophy and political science.
While his professors lost their patience with his upward shots of frogs on leaves with over-saturated colors, he turned his Photography major into a minor and got his degree in journalism instead.
His professors always said his subjects were too limited, and he agreed: he needed different frogs. So when he’d graduated and saved up enough money from his newspaper job, he at long last planned his trip to the rainforest. While a rare meteorological event coincided with the aurora borealis to ignite the skies up north with a once-per-generational glow, the young man flew south.
From the vibrant city, through the downtrodden village and into the woods, he passed technicolor snakes under the endangered canopy, determined to find a small frog perched on a green leaf backlit by the sun.
And when he finally found just that, there was no time to disbelieve his luck. He crouched, he focused, and snap. The perfect shot.
The young man buys all the cords and adapters to get the camera to the computer to the projector to the big screen, so that he can host a reveal party.
With everyone at the edge of their seat, champagne flutes in hand, he boots up the projector. The factory-set screensaver is a randomized slide show of colorful landscapes and wildlife shots, and the first image that blows up on the screen is the silhouette of a frog through a leaf taken by a kitsch photographer, much like the one the young man had taken. His conservationist colleagues say, “aaawww,” and his extended family says, “ooo,” and friends from the photography department say, “mmMm” with the upward inflection of thoughtful approval.
Just as his parents stand up in front of the room misty-eyed to give an impromptu toast, the young man’s computer display finally kicks in, and in a flash, his actual picture—almost the same as the famous one, but a little duller, a little less artfully off-center—appears on the screen behind them. He severs the connection to the computer, so the screensaver returns, but this time with a picture of the Egyptian pyramids, and he severs the connection to the projector altogether.
“It was all worth it, every last bit was worth this,” the young man’s parents say in front of a blank blue screen.