You’ll remember that in high school I was a casual photographer at best, one who struggled along with how-to tutorials and basic yearbook experience. Fast forward to college: still a casual photographer. Picked up a more expensive lens or two. Downloaded Lightroom. But still, I lack the finesse that some photographers have. The seemingly effortless colors and contrast that make jaws drop and memories even more memorable.
One thing that I excel at, though, are those candids: those shots of sunny smiles that seem to be so intangible. A burst of laughter amongst friends, or a couple shyly trying to giggle at each other’s faces. It only takes one thing: an abrasive “now, look at each other and fake laugh until it’s real” command, and click click click: picture after picture of white flashing teeth, wrinkled eye corners: memories of a good time.
How valid are memories that are fabricated or curated to a degree? First semester I fell prey to believing the candids of college life: frustrated, I laid in bed in depressive states as I watched my friends have what seemed to be the time of their life. Hours would go by in front of a flickering fluorescent screen: hours that could have been spent exacting the vision I had of college. Sometimes I would buy into the mentality that I too, was living out my highest expectations of college: parties with friends, late night runs, adventure times, romance, and finding myself. And suddenly I would snap back to reality, lifting my head up from a textbook and sometimes drool at 2:00 a.m., Fondren Library.
It was way too easy to drown myself in FOMO and social media feeds of bright sparkling blue oceans and bikini-clad sorority girls; in the land of Ivy League intellectualism and the coveted debauchery of Greek life. But these are the candids of college life: the front that masks how it really is.
College life has been that rollercoaster of trying to smile for the camera but maybe your cheek muscles have been stretched a little too far, or your eyes reveal that you’re really tired of faking it for two hours. Sometimes college is exactly that: the golden visions of 90’s movies, drinks and laughs with strangers, friends galore and pajama gossip sessions at 2 a.m. But most of the time it’s far less glorious: regretful fast food binges over chemistry textbooks. Vomiting into trash cans. Losing friends over stupid arguments. Panicking over class grades. Squinting with exhausted eyes at job applications. Cooking instant ramen because you, sleep-deprived, slept past dinner. Missing home, friends, and familiarity.
But the clichés about “learning more about yourself” or “figuring out what you want out of life”? Those lessons are the ones that arise from these uncomfortable aspects of college. Perhaps vomiting in a trash can teaches you about your limits, or how you act around certain people. Waking up in the library at 2:00 a.m., however miserable, helps you think about the privilege you have for that to be your biggest problems. Petty fights, arguments, and losing friends help you turn to the people you actually need in your life. Getting rejected from all ten job applications reminds you of humility, and to do better next time.
So college is not without struggle, or horrifically embarrassing, exhausting, tear-filled times. But those, like commands from the photographer, trigger something real that does emerge: a candid smile. A laugh. An experience. And something emerges from you that wasn’t there before.
I’m learning to recognize the effort behind the candids.