It seems like every time I go on Facebook now, there is almost always a picture of food popping up coupled with a blitz of tagged photos everywhere. And that’s fine, but I do remember a time when everyone didn’t have an 8 megapixel camera in their pocket and had the ability to see everyone’s photos instantaneously. I remember as a kid, my dad had this great old camera with a manual focus, and you had to manually wind it every time you took a picture. It made this incredibly loud and satisfying click, which of course as an 8 year old, all I wanted to do was pull on this lever. My dad would then get mad at me for wasting film.
Which brings me to my other realization, the thought of film as a limited resource. I remember, going on vacation with my first camera (which, undoubtedly, my parents got me because I was destroying theirs) and only getting one roll of film to use. This meant that to capture whatever I wanted to remember from the trip, I only had 24 attempts to do so. Predictably, I took about 12 pictures of various objects in our hotel room, did the math, took another few from our window, then made my dad take a picture of me and my sister, and then a family photo. By hour two of our vacation, I’m fairly certain 20 out of 24 exposures were gone. I don’t quite remember what my last 4 photos were, but I was big into cars and airplanes at the time, so I’m sure I must’ve taken some at the airport. And then there was the matter of developing the film once I got home, and waiting to see if any of the pictures actually turned out well (spoiler alert: no). You can take what, hundreds, if not thousands of photos now, and you can just delete the ones that end up poorly, and with Instagram and a billion other apps, you can add tints, lighting and tons of other things that would’ve been unheard of even just a few years ago.
I will always believe that photography is an art form. There is art in capturing an image in a moment, even a manufactured moment, that will resonate emotionally and stay with a viewer. That’s the power of photography. I can go at length and I’m sure a Google search will net you a hundred powerful and iconic images from the last century. I remember my first girlfriend’s mother was a photographer, and one of our first dates was at her mother’s exhibit. Even through the muddled sea of hormones that was my memory of that time I remembered some of those photos, and how striking they were. You’ll never have to sell me on the power of the photograph, and how it can serve as an emotional touchstone.
I once overheard a roughly translated joke that made me laugh, “Americans, even when they are on vacation they need to pretend they’re working as professional photographers.” Now, I’m sure you can make that joke about any group of tourists, but it got me to thinking, and since then, I’ve tried to take as few photos as possible in my life.
So often, so many people try to take a picture of something so that they can remember it forever. I wonder how many of them truly remember it at all. I wonder if they how much they miss when they’re trying to time when to press the button on their iPhone to catch the perfect photo of those fireworks. I wonder if they remember the feeling of the blast washing over them, how it was so humid that night that the smoke seemed to hang there in the night sky. I wonder if they looked right next to them and saw the look of wonder in the kid’s eyes, watching jaws agape at the sky situated on his father’s shoulders.
And you’re right, maybe that memory will eventually fade, lasting much shorter than that photo will, but for as long as I have the memory, I think it’ll more vivid than one I would’ve had if I had been first trying to catalog why I had wanted to be there in the first place.
And for me, not as an artist, but just as a person trying to live my life, that’s a trade-off that I’m more than happy to make.