February 02, 2011

Bittersweet technology

Technology is a funny thing.

Digital photography has revolutionized the act of taking a picture. It's made professional photography a calling for the masses. Allowed us to take as many pictures as we'd like, experiment without the expense of developing film, let us know instantly whether a photo is what we envisioned.

It's also taken some of the specialness out of snapping a picture.

For those of you in your 20s and older, do you remember how cool it was having your picture taken by a Polaroid camera? It was like... whoa... me... picture... developed... instantly.

The affordability of digital cameras has afforded us an arrogance that's leeched meaning from both the process and the product.

For example: sometimes I think I try too hard to capture every moment, and maybe along the way, I'm missing a little of the magic.

This was illustrated to me by (I believe) two Dutch men back in August. Ash and I booked tickets to ride The London Eye at sunset while we were in England, and there we were, snap-snap-snapping pictures, trading cameras with the other people in our pod so we could all have pictures of ourselves against the dazzling backdrop of the budding London night. I asked one of the Dutch men if he would take a picture of Bear and I, which he did gladly. Then I asked if he'd like me to take a picture of him and his friend. He politely declined.

"We got a few photos," he said. "Now we're just soaking it in."

That made me think. I've had a digital camera since 2003, and at least half the time I leave the house to go to dinner or the park or the beach, my camera is in my purse. In some ways, having the camera is fun. It gives you something to do when your food takes too long to arrive, or when the sun's rays are just too hot and you have to retreat to the shade for a bit.

At some point, though, the camera takes over the experience, and you are no longer capturing moments, you're manufacturing photo-ops. 

This makes me sound like all I do is sit behind a camera and click — that's not true. I'm mindful of the moment. But I can do a better job of taking a few great pictures and then retiring the camera for the night.

Not only would that free me to actually enjoy the company of those I would otherwise be click-click-clicking, it would limit my options when it comes time to transfer the pictures to my computer.  Because, um... raise your hand if you have too many pictures on your hard drive. Now raise your other hand if you can't remember the last time you actually had pictures developed.


It's overwhelming: going through folder after folder, wading through fuzzy shots and poor lighting and series of pictures that are all basically the same and trying to figure out which of the 100-and-something shots of that night at Red Lobster is worth paying 25 cents per picture for...

I have an album of mine and Bear's first year together. After that, I got a digital camera and, save our wedding photos, pretty much stopped getting pictures developed.

It's high time I change that.  I'm pledging now to be more mindful of the photos I take, and how long I take them. I don't need 10 shots of the same flower. I don't need 200 pictures from our annual Christmas party. What I want is meaningful shots. An album of them. Dedicated to preserving mine and Bear's life experiences, so that once the bright memories of today fade, I'll have tangible reminders of life back when the second millenium was new.

I think my future self will thank me.


Pam Harris said...

Such a beautiful post! I remember thinking those Polaroid cameras were so cool! I think I actually need to take more pictures. I hate taking them, but I'd like to have more memories of me with my loved ones. :)

Yahong Chi said...

Whoa I totally remember Polaroids! (Even though I'm only 14!!! :P) They play a minor role in my WIP. :D

Molly said...

I definitely remember Polaroids! During my summer trip around NE, I brought an inherited SLR (film) and my digital. Just barely into the trip, my digital stopped working. What was left was my SLR and five rolls of film. Crystal clear shots are great, but there is something completely magical about film, the grain, the way light filters through the lens. I wish I had brought more film, or had unlimited exposures available, but it made the moments that I captured all the more special.

Abby Stevens said...

Thanks, Pam! My family all grumbles when I corral them into taking pictures, but then they are so happy with the results. It's better to have them than not, although obviously you can go overboard (as I apparently have, lol).

Yahong - It's so funny, I really didn't think anyone under 20 would remember them, but I've been proved wrong a few times by this post! That's so cool they play a role in your WIP!

Molly - there is something completely magical about film, the grain, the way light filters through the lens.

I couldn't agree more! When Bear and I got married, we got a student to take some pictures with a film camera, and I'm so glad we did so! There's just something cool about an old-school (analog?) camera.

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