I’ve heard many an expert make a claim for taking less pictures. In an age dominated by the impromptu selfie and the urge to document every moment of life in a Facebook or Instagram post, pictures, many argue, have become meaningless.
Taken out of context, they no longer convey the significance of the moment, and may actually impede one’s ability to both enjoy and remember said moment.
But despite all the advice to the contrary, I will never stop taking pictures.
For one, I don’t believe picture-taking has the effect of disengagement so many claim. Now, I’m definitely willing to concede this may be different for everyone, as so many things are, but for me, taking a picture has the opposite effect.
The other week, for example, at my son’s birthday party, I was so busy rushing around playing hostess that I didn’t realize until after the party I’d forgotten to take pictures. While I was able to cobble together enough photos from friends to at least have mementos of the “big moments” — blowing out candles and opening presents, there were pictures no one had — of the decorations and venue that I sorely regretted not capturing.
A friend attempted to console me with the well-meaning words, “At least you were able to be present with your kid.” But it didn’t help. Because, well, I wasn’t.
Parties — especially kid parties, as many a mom knows — are a lot of work. And though my three year-old son was thoroughly delighted with the amount of Batman everywhere — from cake to decorations to balloons — which, of course, was the whole point of the thing, it wasn’t Mommy’s job to sit back and relax.
Mommy’s job was to play hostess — to create all the laughter and delight and good times. And so Mommy spent the party running around like the proverbial chicken with her head cut off.
My forgetfulness was not at all evidence of my presence; it was quite the opposite. I was too busy trying to make sure everyone had what they needed and were having fun to take a moment to just stop and enjoy.
A picture would have given me that moment. The time spent to pause and carefully compose a photo is time spent to just breathe and take it all in.
But the idea put forth by many an expert is that if you are busy snapping away, you can’t possibly be present.
Maybe it’s because I’ve always been an introvert, but there’s something about looking through the camera lens and framing a picture in order to capture forever a moment in time that has always helped me slow down and absorb. It gives me the opportunity to really see.
It’s also true that I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed photos. I’m the kind of person that will spend time pouring over those old photo albums, reminiscing about “Remember when?” It’s a definite source of pleasure for me.
But even when pictures aren’t of moments I’ve personally been part of, they still hold such undying interest for me. A good photograph arouses instant curiosity. So much so, that some of my very favorite art exhibits have been of photography, especially good photojournalism exhibits. Those photos always make me think: What’s happening here? Who are they? What’s their story?
It’s undoubtedly the writer in me. I’ve always been fascinated by stories, no matter their form — novel, movie, or photograph. And that’s exactly what a photo is to me — a story.
I recently read a blog post where the writer spoke about no longer taking any photographs when he traveled because, for him, taking pictures took him out of time.
But I can’t imagine ever traveling somewhere and not taking pictures. I’ve been to many diverse countries all over the world, and of all the “souvenirs” I’ve ever brought back, the photos are always my favorite. All the places I’ve been, all the things I’ve experienced, all the people I’ve met — those pictures all tell a story, a story I can relive over and over every time I look at one of those photos.
I’ve also heard it said that if you don’t take pictures, you will actually remember the moment better. But I haven’t found that to be the case for me either.
Memory is a fickle thing, and often fades with time no matter what we do. I can think of many an event where I’ve forgotten to take pictures and am unable to conjure any real, immediate details.
Yet, I’ve also had the experience of looking at a photo out of an old album, of something long forgotten, and the concreteness of detail a photo brings has it all rushing back with immediacy and realness. It allows for a savoring of the memory.
And that’s why I feel such a sense of loss at a “missing” photograph, a regret my friend’s words couldn’t soothe away.
I have plenty of memories of my son’s 3rd birthday. I also have plenty of memories of my son. Yet, even though memories stay with you and make up the general impression of this thing we call life, there’s still nothing quite like looking at a photograph.
My son has grown and changed so radically in just these three short years — from a tiny helpless baby to a walking, talking, fiercely independent pre-schooler. So many changes. He even looks so dramatically different. That’s one of the many things, when you see someone everyday, you tend to forget without a photograph.
Recently, I was looking back at my son’s baby pictures, and they brought such feelings of nostalgia. Those moments when your kids are young seem so difficult when you’re going through them, yet when you look back so hard not to miss dearly.
Though I look forward to seeing the man my son will become, there’s a bitter sweetness to it, knowing that those baby days are gone forever.
I have no doubt I’ll be one of those moms that will sob when my son takes off into adulthood someday, those last eighteen years suddenly seeming so short no matter how exhausting they may have been to go through.
And that’s when I’ll sit down with my photo albums and look at all those pictures, the photographs that have captured so many moments and that tell the story of his childhood. I’ll cry, and it will be those messy, uncontrollable type of tears.
But they will also be good tears, because as he ventures off into the wide unknown, my fledgling leaving the nest, we’ll have the present, the future, and we’ll still have the memories.
And I’ll still be able to look back at them, in a real, concrete way; I’ll be able to look at those photos, those “memories” with him or his dad and, together, we’ll all be able to say fondly, “Remember when?”