Thursday, February 28, 2013

Take Fewer Pictures

This might seem an odd admonition. What could be so wrong with taking a simple picture?

First, consider what happens when someone takes a picture at, say, a party: the mood shifts from enjoying the present to imagining it as passed. To me it strikes a melancholy note when amidst feasting and merry-making someone whips out a camera. Memento mori.

Second and worse still, after I've squeezed out the obligatory smile for the camera, I start to wonder: am I in fact enjoying myself? Why am I here? What's with these people? With me? These are not the musings of a convivial guest.

Third, it reduces the occasion from an event undertaken for its own sake, whether taking in the sight of the Grand Canyon or celebrating a birthday, to an object, a picture, with a utilitarian end. You visit the Grand Canyon to appreciate the place firsthand and you celebrate a birthday because you care for a person. When you look at a picture, you're just trying to jog your memory to get one more emotional kick from the experience.

When thinking on this point I recall the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where the lunar explorers, having stumbled upon the monolith and ushered in a new epoch, stop to take a picture with it. What an appalling gesture.

Last, photography lets us dodge the necessity of describing and writing about our experiences. Stopping to reflect on life helps us appreciate it more than documenting it with a tool. How much more stunning is a sight after you've stopped to reflect on its changing hues, sweet a song after you've learned the harmony, and tasty a meal when you've described its delicate sweetness.

Now these observations can easily be taken ad absurdum. No moratorium is in order. I've been known to take a few photographs and I have many friends whose picture-taking makes me no never-mind, yet living and reflecting seem the better habits.

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