My family enjoyed watching the movie Big over the weekend. With my son the same age as the main character, it brought an interesting angle to an old movie we enjoy. “Old” movie…as in 27 years old.
Obviously, a lot has changed in those years, and my husband made an insightful comment as we watched the scene where Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia “played” the giant piano at FAO Schwartz. He noted how all the people in the store gathered around to watch the men play and simply enjoyed watching it…and how if that scene took place today, everyone would have their cells up shooting it. Several would probably post it on either YouTube or Facebook… and with any luck, it would get numerous likes—and maybe even go viral!
Our world has indeed gone viral. While the easy access to take photos and videos gives us innumerable opportunities to easily record events and make memories—as well as countless cat and puppy videos—how does it impact our “now”?
Have you been to a school play lately? Parents will shoot the entire performance on an iPad (and often hold it up and block others’ views, but…gotta get the shot). Same with sports—parents are busy looking at the frame of their shot while their kid scores a goal. How about a concert? We used to hold up lighters—now it’s cell phones.
Though I am not an iPad-holder-upper, I have certainly tried to record my kid’s participation in various life events. In doing so, however, I am aware that I am looking at him through a lens (or I try to both record it and watch him and end up with some very avant garde framing).
But if we are always watching the screen instead of watching the real, we miss something, don’t you think? We aren’t just letting it wash over us…savoring it…we are concerned about framing…lighting…volume.
For many years growing up, I wanted to be a photojournalist. (Life or National Geographic here I come!) On a special birthday, I was blessed to receive what I had longed for to start this visual journey: a Canon AE-1. I so loved it. Of course, it was before the digital age, so the camera used film…which made each shot count. I had to be more careful—with a finite number of shots, I needed to think about each one. (For you youngins, “film” was a roll of a thin plastic-like substance that you couldn’t expose to light until it was processed. Processing it meant either sticking it in noxious liquids in the dark and letting it drip-dry or dropping it off at a little hut where people worked and I used to wonder where they would go if they needed to use the bathroom. But I digress.)
In our current digital world, we can shoot like crazy. Sometimes I think the abundance lessens the value. Too often I see my camera roll with so many shots of the same thing that I give up trying to see the nuances of each—they just kind of blur together. It is both a blessing and a challenge.
I eventually woke up from my photojournalist dream. I realized that that would mean a life of looking through a lens while real life would be going on all around me, and I didn’t want to always play the role of observer. I wanted to have the freedom to choose to be in the moment and not just covering it.
That doesn’t mean I stopped loving photography. I just understood that I wanted to decide when to live life through a lens and when not to.
And I’m still deciding. Since most of us carry a camera everywhere because we have our phones with us, we can shoot anything and everything we want. But do we want to shoot anything and everything?
We take all these pics and videos, and…then what? This weekend we also watched our wedding video—for the second time in 17 years. That’s a pretty important life event, and we’ve watched it…twice. (Maybe we are not typical in this regard?) It was a hoot to watch, and I’m absolutely glad we have it, but it is definitely more for the sake of family history than casual entertainment. (And, of course, someone else shot our wedding video for us, so it was no distraction to the “real.” I wouldn’t be surprised these days if we don’t see a wedding or two on social media courtesy of a selfie stick held by the bride!)
As the family photo archivist, I treasure the photographs of my ancestors and the memories of my growing up. They are of immense value to me and my family, so I am absolutely not discounting the importance of a visual history. But the bottom line is that—at least for me—I don’t want my world seen through a viewfinder. Not always. Not even mostly. But definitely some. It’s a balance of saving the memories versus savoring the moment.
There is a time to focus the camera and hit record, and a time to focus your heart and soak it all in….a time to live life through a lens and a time to simply watch the giant piano play.