Taking photographs is not bad. But why do we need to take so many?
The world is a lot different since my early teenage years given the massive progress in technology. Don’t worry, I’m not about to present a lengthy exposition into the pros and cons of this. But, really, I do want to comment on the culture of the selfies, the culture of photos more generally, and how this potentially scratches at some larger issues at play.
Bet you’re glad you kept on reading. But I mean it: the Snapshot Era is about proving that we are alive. Even if we do not manage to actually do an awful lot, we’ll sure have enough pictures to show for it. It is almost as if, with gritted teeth and bouts of tenacity, we claw mark our way through the days proving that we were here, godamnit. Yes, we certainly were. Yeah, look, me too! And me! Yay. Lets’ celebrate with a picture.
Some of us may not be doing it for this reason, some of us may be doing it out of habit, out of the need to keep up with others. Some may be doing it just because they enjoy taking photos and, no, there is no larger, existential motive at play here, thank you very much. In which case, my apologies. On the one hand, it is beautiful to preserve something. Surely to take a moment, or five, to capture something signifies appreciation?
Yet I am still feeling that there is a darker undercurrent to this, at least sometimes. I have never witnessed such a huge preoccupation with taking photos before. One or two would be fine, heck, I didn’t wear a gorgeous dress for others to just forget about it. But it is almost as if now the photo-taking sessions become a separate, more important, part of the event itself. I feel that some of us are more concerned with the snapshot of an interesting place and beautiful people, rather than actually engaging with wherever we are, and whomever we are with. We’ve all seen that dude at that gig who watches the entire thing through his iPhone, or fancy camera or whatever. Don’t get me started. He should’ve just watched the show on Youtube the next day; much cheaper.
The notorious snapshot also got me thinking about the nature of time, and I think many of us have wrapped ourselves up into a tricky relationship with that. But I think our worries are often about the past and the future rather than about the present.Our today is the yesterday of tomorrow that we once looked forward to because it contained within it the prospect of an exciting future. We are more likely to find today boring because it has not yet passed, because it has not yet been tainted with the glitter that contains within it heavy doses of nostalgia. So it goes on, forever more.
I cannot shrug off the idea that what we (including myself) are doing is fact rushing towards Mr Reaper-Man himself. We are forgetting to stop, to simply stop and live and enjoy. Instead, we are hoarding images that will become our memories. We jump from one picture opportunity to the next without contemplating our experience. It is a form of modern day gluttony, and I feel sick from overeating.
While we love these moments, we hate them at the same time. We are hateful that they will leave us. But rather than subconsciously feeling resentment, we could just note and appreciate. By nodding and smiling at beautiful yet passing moments, we can retain a small amount of control and hopefully remain a little independent: independent enough to know that while it may not last forever, it happened to us, and good things will happen again. This idea reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from the poet Sarah Kay:
“When I meet you, in that moment, I’m no longer a part of your future. I start quickly becoming part of your past. But in that instant, I get to share your present. And you, you get to share mine. And that is the greatest present of all.”
Indeed. We short-change ourselves of many moments, and I think that if we could do so, at the end of our lives we would be marching back into the shop of life, demanding a refund of time, wailing about how we have been taken for a fool. But there will be no one behind the desk to even apologise. To appreciate a feeling that is much bigger than you, and to truly respect and love it, I think you should, at least sometimes, allow it to have free reign, even if it leaves you feeling a little sad once it has passed. If we are always so perseveringly aware of moments, does it enhance, or actually take something away from it? That question is not rhetorical.
Why are we trying to see things, time in hindsight? Are we so convinced of this vendetta supposedly robbing us of something precious that we need to scarper for the relics of living and hold them up in triumph, to show others that we, too, are currently living out a purpose? To know is not enough anymore; to show is everything.
Here’s an idea: live the thing. Live life. Time passes, but once we stop feeling victimized by that and accept that this is just a fact of life, maybe we can start living not a semblance of a life, but something more authentic that exists beyond the flash.
Let us gently pry our fingers from our devices, then. Those moments that we are forever in a rush to capture will not fall through our fingers like sand: they will still be all ours. Then again, maybe I’m just reading too much into it and need to calm down. Not forgetting to take a picture of myself in a zen-like pose with a glass of bubbly.