The Photographer’s Dilemma

Posted on 27 April 2009

I love taking pictures, and since acquiring a digital camera I have fallen into the habit of bringing it with me almost everywhere I go. Wouldn’t want to miss a single Kodak moment!

But as a casual photographer, where does this obsession end? I would love to ask a professional photographer how he or she draws the line between work and life. I constantly find myself pulling out my camera to capture scenic shots or memorable moments; but in retrospect I often wonder what I’ve missed, in that instant I was hidden behind the lens. The lens becomes my brain, and the photographs my memories, for important moments like these…but is this healthy?

I became particularly cognizant of this effect on a recent trip to French Polynesia, where I have a host family that I have lived with in the past. Every time I visit their village it is like a home-coming; a rich experience whose every moment is deliciously ripe with affection and understanding. This year I was there for only a few days, which made each passing hour that much more precious–and I barely stepped out of the bedroom without my camera in hand. I wanted to capture every laugh, every silly expression, every reality of the Marquesan life with my lens so that I could savor them throughout the long year to come, far away in DC. As if doing so would make my brief, deeply savored visit somehow more real and lasting.

Yet, the more I take pictures–of pigs, of flowers, of smiling children from above, side and front–the less I believe this theory to be true. I get the feeling that I have become so drunk on photographs, so “shutter happy”, that there are special times I remember less clearly now, moments already beginning to fade, because I thought I could own them forever by creating a negative. The pictures that captured those isolated instants of life are safely stored on my computer or in my external harddrive, but like my memories they are becoming increasingly lost among the thousands of other photographs that continue to build as folders from weekend trips, bike rides and other vacations accumulate.

I increasingly feel that despite the attractively simple process of taking and storing digital photos, and the alluring “Who cares if it’s bad–I’ll just delete it later!” attitude, there are moments better enjoyed without the “click!” or the flash. I find myself considering a new kind of will-power: the power to resist the click. I sincerely hope that in future, as I find myself exposed once again to instants of meaning and my finger itches to press that button, I find the strength, from time to time, to resist, and just let my brain soak it in…and live it.

Faces with PuaMau

Making faces with PuaMau


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