Friday, July 5, 2013

Does taking photos take from life?

(This is the 21st post in the one-month challenge series. This topic is one I have wanted to write about for a long time. Reading this article finally gave me the push to write it!) 

For some of you this title might feel weird- especially the way I have phrased it. So, let me explain.

A long time ago, when you had to actually have film rolls in cameras to take pictures, most people would take very few pictures of their vacations. Then you had to develop the picture, keep it in an album and you would take it out only once in a few years to cherish the memories. Then you got the digital camera with which you could take nearly unlimited photos (limited only by memory- but you could use multiple sd cards; and battery- which also you could have spares for). Even then you would store those photos on CD/DVDs, and see them once in a while. Then came the deluge of devices- handhelds, tablets, ipods, almost anything with a battery and an on/off switch could take photos (and most of them boast 3-5MP cameras!) Every device manufacturer tried to pack more and yet some more camera features- better sensors, higher resolution, filters and more filters; the phone/tablet may be lousy, it may even stop working after a year, but your camera should be the absolute best! Also came along facebook, flickr and instagram. You could not only take unlimited pictures but could put them up online for everyone to gape at. And that's when the problem began.
In a mad mad rush for likes and comments, people started filling the digital world with photographs. When you go to a beautiful place, you (and me included) think of taking the best pic to put up. Does standing here look better? What if I use this filter? (I haven't used any filters so far. The most editing I do to a pic is cropping out strangers from it.) But you see the point- people want to take photos more than enjoy the destination. Or to put it better, I quote this brilliant line from the article above- "My first thought at a pretty sunset--where's my phone?"

Which brings up the question- Are we so much into digital storage and instantaneous shots of facebook-induced dopamine that we have stopped to 'live'
(Click on Read more for more...)

Now at least one of you is saying that after all, photos ARE for preserving memories- they let you relive the good old days. I agree. Many a time I see an old pic and am filled with "Those were the best days of my life!" (even though my best days are probably now!) It is awesome that I can capture moments and look back at them many years later, and that I can capture so many of them in 13MP. You don't have to lose all your photos because you exposed the film by mistake or forgot to buy film (both of which has happened to my parents!) Continuous online syncing, like in the Android phones, means that you don't even have to worry about deleting all your photos from your SD card by mistake (which I once did!) In fact, for people who live away from family, this is such a boon because you can take pictures of everything from the burnt sabzi (which you are asking your mother how to fix) to the beautiful skirt you are trying out (and want your sister's opinion for).
Besides, you might ask, what's wrong with wanting to impress? Isn't most of life about getting social recognition? Isn't everyone constantly trying to get people to think they are cool, anyway? And didn't the previous generation also take photographs of the exotic vacations they had so they could show their neighbors? After all, aren't we programmed to do that?

If you are like me and have read a lot of internet content on facebook-generated jealousy and instagram-generated inferiority complexes, you would be tempted to ask- why all the hullabaloo? Why should sharing be branded evil? And don't people always rise hue and cry for every technological innovation ever? Not like that changed anything!

Which is true. And I should say that IMO, sharing is not evil. Neither is photography a leech sucking the happiness out of your life. Up to a point.

For many years, when I saw a beautiful sunset or a landscape, I used to wish I could paint it. (I am just barely ok with sketches and cannot paint to save my soul. Though I guess nobody ever had to paint to save his/her soul! :P ). My eyes could not drink in the breathtaking beauty in the few minutes it lasted and I wanted to capture it for eternity. And in the last few years, having a camera phone at hand always made me achieve that in my own way. I have begun to think of photography as an art, and I can see how it can sometimes inspire you. (Like this brilliant timescape which I saw yesterday that made me want to go on early morning outings more often! Please click on the link -it is a MUST MUST WATCH!)

And yet, sometimes when I am on a trip and everyone around me is hunting for their cameras, I feel a little fake. (I admit I also do that sometimes, but in places where you are involved in an activity other than just seeing, I'd rather be doing than posing.) Is it really necessary to record every cake you cut, every car you drive, every dish you make, and every dress you look pretty in? There is some charm in obscuring details- in keeping your mind as the album- and combining many beautiful days into timescapes in your mind.

So, let me just say that it is fine to take photos and share them. It is ok to want to be liked. As long as you know (and teach your children) that you don't have to record EVERYthing and that sometimes it is good just to see.

That sometimes, it is good just to be.

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