Photographs and Memories

I was conversing with a good friend earlier tonight, and we got on to the subject of photographing events or milestones in our lives. I commented that one of the things I truly feel sorry about for our children is that with the ease of digital photography, they’re no longer really living life so much as they are on the quest to make sure evidence is captured on film. “Pics or it didn’t happen” is a refrain heard all too often. What happened to actually experiencing things and enjoying them; building the memories in our heads?

As a child of the 80s (born in ’75) I had a nifty little 35mm camera to take pictures with. Film was treasured because it was expensive to begin with, you were limited to 24 or 36 shots, and then you had to pay to have them developed afterwards. I always tried to make sure that every single frame counted, and there was that wonderful element of surprise getting to see the photos you took days, weeks, months, sometimes even years prior once the roll was finally developed. It was like an extra Christmas or birthday present. Admittedly, a lot of the photos didn’t turn out great because I was a kid and hadn’t developed the skill yet to master a perfectly composed shot, but even those oddly formatted, sometimes blurry photos could always resurrect the moment in time when they were taken.

Photography today is easy. That’s not to say that professional photography is easy – it definitely isn’t – but amateur photography is completely mind numbing now. You’re dressing up and going out with friends? Take at least a dozen shots of you and your friends (from at least as many mobile phone cameras as there are friends) and then winnow them down later. Perhaps jump on Instagram and add a filter and crop it in a specific way to make it look artsy. Boom! Instant memories! But are they really?

We shouldn’t be recording every moment of every day to store in some digital archive to likely be ignored for the rest of our lives. We should be focusing on the moments as we’re going through them, and the memories will stay in our minds. I’d say 90% of the photos I see online are perfectly posed, and I’m guessing that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of “failed” photos before the “perfect” photo gets posted. We’re not perfect people. At least, I’m not. I recently looked back through the wedding pictures of my friends Ashley and JV from December 30, 2012 and out of all the photographs from that night, the ones that make me smile the most and bring back the happiest memories are the goofy, unplanned shots where we’re having fun instead of trying to look wonderful. Most of the time, I wasn’t even aware that there was a camera on me while I was basking in the happiness of two incredible people celebrating their love for one another. (And for the record, Ashley couldn’t look bad in a photo if she tried)

When I was younger and actually went to live concerts, I was there to listen to and support the musicians that were playing, whether it was a huge stadium concert or a jam session in a dive bar. If you go on YouTube, there are thousands of videos of people attending concerts with their mobiles held high in the air, recording the event for posterity. I can’t say that I’ve ever taken a single photograph at a concert, but I can remember every detail of every single concert I went to, because I was immersed in the moment.

The “must record everything” mindset crosses over to the most basic experiences during a day. If a sudden fight breaks out, or someone falls and hurts themselves, the new reaction is to whip out the mobile and get a recording to upload, hoping that you’ve just caught the next viral video. I won’t say all, but many people would rather film a crime or impending disaster rather than stepping up to try to assist or avert.

Sorry, this is kind of turning into a rant about photography, and that’s not what I was really meaning to do. I want my son to have happy memories with me, because I don’t get to see him nearly enough. Yes, I could splurge and buy him whatever the newest trendy whatever out there, but that’s just a thing, and he’s going to lose interest in it and it will eventually get sold, or lost, or hidden away in a corner someplace where it won’t be thought of again. Instead of buying my son things this past Christmas, I took him places, and maybe taught him a few things. I got him up close and personal with a Ferrari 458 Especial, and then went into great detail with him about what makes it so especial. I took him up to the hills near Los Angeles and we went whipping crazily through some fantastic windy roads at roller coaster speeds while I explained controlling the car using minimal pedal work and a lot of gear shifting. I took him to the Hotel del Coronado and explained the history of it and why it’s important to recognize good architecture. I like to think that those memories will stay with him much more vividly than something I could have purchased from a store.

I’m also hoping that I taught him that photographs last forever. Especially now in the digital age. Once a photograph is posted online, it can never really disappear again. Someone could grab a screenshot of that embarrassing photo and it can come back to haunt you later in life. Do you really want a future boss seeing that photo of you dancing in your underwear on a pool table while completely hammered? That might be a memory you’d rather forget, but once it’s out there, it can come back to bite you on your mostly naked butt.

There are few things sadder to me than going on a date or meeting up with friends and everyone is immersed in their own little world on their mobiles. Mobiles have their place in society, and social media can be a good thing when used for the right purpose: staying in touch with loved ones. The problem is that we’re losing touch with the loved ones who are right here with us. Next time you meet a friend for coffee or a drink, put the mobile away and actually interact with that someone you’re with instead of taking a picture of your drink and posting it online. Six months later, if you were to look at that lovely picture of a latte with a heart drawn in the foam on top, are you going to remember what you talked about? Probably not (unless your memory is quite a bit better than mine, which is entirely possible).

The world is a beautiful and amazing place, and yes, there are times when you see something so breathtaking that you want to capture that memory in a photograph. Just don’t forget to remember where you were, who you were with, and why that something was so spectacular. Enjoy each of the moments for what they are, while you’re going through them. Live your life instead of just collecting photos of it. You don’t get a do-over. Keep the bad pictures along with the good, because they can be great to cheer you up later when things aren’t going so great. Would that first kiss be better or worse if you were trying to make sure you had the perfect camera angle to capture the shot? I’m glad there were no cameras around when I had my first kiss, but I can still recall the night perfectly.

Alzheimer’s runs in my family, so I may lose my memories some day, if I live that long. That’s okay though. Chances are, I wouldn’t remember from looking at photos anyway. Until then, I’ll continue spending time doing things with or without other people, focusing on the important things, not just the composition of the shot.

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