A Eulogy For Photographs
And Hope That We Can Bring Them Back
A lovely girl whom I am enamored with is going back to school, in a city 1000 or so miles from where I live, in less than three weeks.
With her departure in mind, I thought to myself, “it would be great to get a few photos together.”
Maybe we could go out on the boat and set up my DSLR on a tripod and take a few?
Or perhaps we could go to a park and do the same.
But after that well-intentioned thought came a shudder. I realized what people would think of us, posing in front of an unmanned camera, trying to look good.
The idea of it made me feel slimy, because when I see strangers posing for photographs I am reminded of people’s obsession with crafting their virtual image. I carry with me an assumption that each photo taken is destined to be tested on the “likes” market and not to be put in a frame.
Maybe I’m the only one who feels that way, but I sense I am not alone.
And I believe there was a time not too long ago when the use of a camera — a real camera — didn’t bother me.
I can picture* it. My father had this golden colored Sony with 35mm film when I was a child. We’d snap photos if I was with my cousins and extended family. We’d bring it along on vacations to Florida, Rhode Island, and Colorado. It was nice to see that device when he brought it around. It was a reminder of the specialness of a particular day or moment.
Why don’t I feel that way anymore about cameras? Why does the innocent notion of photographs with a girl I adore bring with it a sour feeling?
At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old man, I will proceed.
It’s those damn iPhones. It’s the Galaxies and the Notes and whatever unwieldy tablets and touch screens that you carry along with you on a day to day basis.
We are incessantly posing for snapchats and instagrams and instagram stories and vsco and (maybe still) facebook. And the ones we don’t post are hoarded on our respective camera rolls.
Each attractive aesthetic we encounter has become a target for cameras. Gone are the days when people simply appreciated a spectacularly plated meal or a glorious sunset after a long summer day.
What it is we’re trying to capture and retain from all these photos, I’m not sure. But with each thoughtless photo taken, I feel the art of capturing significance continually slipping away from us.
Maybe snapchat is a good thing, if only because it allows us to satisfy our craving for stupid pictures and then immediately purge them from history, like some sort of photographic bulimia.
We are so far from where we once were. We once took photos and then waited for their development.
Film is expensive, and the process of developing it is not easily taken up by a novice photographer, but film makes you think carefully before you hit the shutter button. You have limited number of shots, and you wouldn’t dare waste them.
Film adds a surprisingly pleasant buffer period between capturing and viewing a picture. It is its own type of fun to see how photographs turned out a few weeks later, and to comment on them in retrospect.
Most refreshingly, film has no, “let me see it” right after the photo is taken. There is not, “let’s take another, I look bad.” Film photography does not dominate the occasion, it documents it, and then allows you to return to it.
But we live in a digital world.
I dropped my iPhone 6S so many times that I shattered the protruding camera, and perhaps that’s why my distaste for others’ unnecessary picture-taking has grown so much.
With only a front facing camera, I find myself with the inability to abuse photography. If I find a sunset truly remarkable I am left with two options: enjoy it like we used to for thousands of years, or take a shameful selfie with said sunset.
A camera-less Jack is a Jack that has been thrust into the present.
And I know. Camera-phones are unmistakably convenient. And often, I ask a friend to take photo of something for me…but because I have to impose on someone for photographs, I am forced to be choosey.
A world without camera-phones would be a worse world. The camera-phone has made life easier and more transparent. The uses range from scanning codes to documenting damage on vehicles in an accident to capturing live video that incites the world to act.
But our rush to take pictures of every day occurrences has created a strange barrier to experiencing the world around us. We trade in a vivid, fleeting moment for watered-down permanence in the form of a digital file.
Life with the aid of technology is often better, but we forget that we can be disciplined in our use of it.
In short, a little selectivity goes a long way.
So take pictures with your DSLR of you and that girl you’re enamored with before she goes off to school. But the next time a seductive entrée is delivered to your table, stop for a moment.
Look at it. Feel your excitement and your watering mouth. But don’t reach for your phone. Reach for your fork.
*Pun originally unintended but intentionally left in
Jack writes for fun and is working on a series of video sketches. He last wrote about his decision not to get a real job.
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