Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
— Wendell Berry
The digital age gives a new (and almost opposite) meaning to having a photographic memory. The experience of the moment has become the experience of the photo.
And it’s not only the subjects of the photos who are affected. In the age of the realtime, social web, the person taking the photos is often distracted by the urgent desire to share near realtime photos of an experience. Is it worth reducing an entire real life experience to what can be seen through a tiny screen? I recently attended a concert where I was the only one in my section who had no device between my eyes and the performance — and that was only because I forgot my iPhone.
I enjoy photography as a spectator, but I’ve never been able to get into the habit of snapping photos of stuff I’m experiencing. Just can’t seem to inhabit that removed perspective long enough to think, “This would make a great picture.” As for our increasingly-popular inclination to filter life through a gadget screen in order to experience it later at a more convenient time which will likely never come, well, it makes me think that maybe there’s some metaphorical usage to be gotten from the stories of American Indians who thought that photographs would steal the subject’s soul.