Proof of (a) Life: the photography conundrum


birdsNever before have we seen such a proliferation of photographers and wanna-be photographers in our world.  It used to be a fairly expensive hobby but when film turned digital and costs were driven down—and the novelty of a phone camera burgeoned— everyone got shutter-happy! (Great news for eager amateurs… terrible news for professionals.) I read a very astute observation on the modern phenomenon of taking pictures of EVERYTHING (be it your dinner, outfit for the day, or workout sweat) that said “Proof of a life is now more important than having a life.”  And I see this every day at the park across my house where moms chase their kids around with their phone in hand, trying to catch the happy smile or perfect angle on the slide antics.

           But I feel something of a disconnect from “the moment” when I have my camera with me. Maybe it’s my production training or from old photography classes in junior college, always looking at the angles and lighting and trying to foresee great shots, so I can be there when it happens. Have you noticed that this changes the way you experience something? To me, it seems like the very act of shooting something became almost as important as living something. Pumpkin patch visits?!  A day at the beach?!  Baseball games?! Parades?! CHRISTMAS-TIME?!  All of these found me with  the camera in my hand, frantic to get it on film (err… hard drive).  

     Now I say, “Enough.” I want a balance.  I want to employ my memory again.  It’s great to look through bursting photo albums (or online files that never get printed) with the children. But more valuable to me is just soaking it in. I get so distracted when I lug my camera around with me… or worse, when I have the ease of the iPhone to quickly snap some shots that I often forget to savor these all-too-short moments. And it takes a lot of discipline to allow myself to do nothing but experience the present.  

     Yet, I’m a realist. I recently upgraded to a newer, quicker, sharper DSLR and some accessory items. I’m not going to STOP taking pictures. I just struggle mightily to balance it out. Despite having a fuller, busier life and more children now (read: excellent photo ops!), our camera gets taken out less and less often. I do deliberate portrait shooting with the kids of course as needed. But I’m not concerned about dragging the gear (or whipping out the phone) every time a child does something cute or my dessert looks especially appealing. I love the quote Sean Penn’s character gave in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  As a professional photographer, he was hunting the elusive snow leopard and once he finally found it and had the perfect shot framed up, he didn’t take the picture. Ben Stiller is confused and asks him:  “When are you going to take it?!”  Sean responds: “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

     And that’s what I want. I want to stay in the moment. I want to be here. I want to live a rich and full life, not prove I have a rich and full life. And part of that means sometimes leaving the camera at home and being okay with missing a killer shot or sweet moment. I think in the end, it’ll be worth knowing that just because something would make for a great photo, doesn’t mean it should.


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