Last week I wrote about how I’m addicted to my phone and how I’m taking practical steps to un-addict myself (un-addict … it’s a word). At the very same time I was mulling over this concept, my dear friend Rachael from Haven Blog was working through some similar thoughts. We talked a lot about it and I asked if she would write a guest post about it. These words are a great reflection of her introspective soul and she has me seriously thinking about how I take photos. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram to get more wisdom nuggets (and gorgeous photos) in your life. Introducing, the one and only, Rachael Hope:
Using Photographs as an instrument of memory is probably a mistake because I think that photographs actually sort of impoverish your memory in certain ways, sort of take away all the other senses—the sense of smell and taste and texture, that kind of stuff. … Sally Mann, Photographer
I was recently introduced to the legendary work of Sally Mann (which is beautiful, evocative, and warning: full of nudity in case you Google.) And I was utterly intrigued as to why someone so gifted at the art of photography would say these things about essentially, her own work. On first reading, it seemed like a put-down to me and my defenses rose up. ‘No! We take pictures to remember! That’s the whole point!’ But I sat with her words for several days and they began to sink down into my heart. Every time I grabbed my iPhone to take a quick shot of my kids or some small detail of my day, I kept wondering if taking the moment to photograph it was in some way taking away from the joy of the moment soaking into my senses.
We live in such a connected and documented world. I recently read that it is estimated that more pictures have been taken in the last 5 years than all the years prior combined. Though I couldn’t find the original source for this statistic, I don’t doubt that in its general sentiment, it reigns true. Add to this the countless numbers of those images which have been shared digitally and online and we are the most photographed generation and the most connected generation. But what if that means we have the fewest memories of any generation?
I have always treasured photographs. From the time I was a child, digging through the boxes and boxes of unorganized photographs in my parent’s basement was a favorite pastime. Every few years, often over the holidays, those boxes are pulled out and again and our family will pour over the memories and share stories that were forgotten but are brought back to life by the spark of an image. There are a lot of photographs but almost every one has a story. So, what’s the difference? For my parents, one roll of 24-exposure film was all we had and we cherished it. Each picture had a great thoughtfulness behind it. Each image was an investment of time and money. I am a great advocate for digital photography, but perhaps it’s simply time to discipline ourselves to think about our images in the way that makes each one a moment of intentionality and purpose to remember a story, not just an action. My thought is that this attitude would not bring on pressure or anxiety to the making of the every day images, but that the images we do take would be products of a moment so beautiful to our senses that we want to remember it with photography. Let’s move away from capturing just another passing moment that would likely not be worth remembering if we didn’t pick up our phone or camera.
The habit of constantly photographing everything is a shockingly difficult one to break, especially after you have kids. This summer I’m attempting to re-train my head and heart to seek first the memory of my other senses by taking full days away from my phone, computer and online presence. Full, long days where I’m not distracted by the dinging and ringing, when my kids know they have my full attention all day, and my mind and imagination are engaged in the beauty of the moments surrounding me. So far, it’s more life-giving and rejuvenating than I could have even imagined.
And then, in the moment when I’m so overwhelmed by the beauty of something and I MUST take a picture, those pictures, those memories are so much more precious to me. This series of images of my son is the perfect example. I will always remember this summer evening as one full of laughter in our home. He smelled of freshness right after a bath, he asked if he could hold these flowers and then extended them out to me. My daughter was twirling next to me, and the light coming in our home from every door and window open was bouncing off the rain outside. It was a heavenly and rare moment where everything was bombarding my senses, and everyone was happy at the same time. In all our lives these moments can be rare and hard to come by, so you will understand why I just had to pull out my camera. These images are priceless to me because they will forever evoke the emotions and smells of that night. They are not images passing in the wind that I will never look at again. They mean too much to be given that fate. Instead, they are a beautiful reminder of the joy that every day can hold, and how even the mundane moments can invade our senses and be sacred in our hearts.
So, I guess in the end, Sally Mann had it right. In the craziness of our world, we have gotten it backwards: taking pictures to remind us of so many moments and how they made us feel when instead, we should create memories with those we love, stop and engage every sense that we may never forget the moments that impact us the most. And then, and only sometime, take a picture of that moment. You’ll always treasure those images. You’ll share them. You’ll print them. You’ll remember them. And the rest will be treasured up in your heart, where it was meant to be all along.