by MIA FREEDMAN
SCENE 1: I’m at my cousin’s 21st. It’s being held in a noisy inner city pub and my parents are also there. This is hilarious for everyone because they are not pub people. So as soon as I arrive, I make a beeline for them and begin taking photos. They are equally keen to capture the novelty and for the next 10 minutes we all snap away furiously with our phones, thrusting them into the hands of by-standers and beseeching them to “get one of us together” in various combinations. I’m not sure what we will do with these images but it seems very important we have them.
SCENE 2: I’m at a funeral. When the old man died two weeks earlier, his two adult daughters drove from interstate to sort through his things and high in a cupboard they found a box of old photos. They were black and white, slightly yellow and curled at the edges, about two dozen of them. The women wanted to prepare a slide show for the service and they used their phones to take photos of the photos. Among them was a poignant shot of their father when he was about five. As I watch the image fill the carefully erected screen at his memorial service, I’m struck by the preciousness of it. Compared to the thousands of photos taken of kids today, it’s rare to see childhood photos of anyone over 60.
SCENE 3: I’m at a meet-and-greet at ABCTV. Media and guests have been invited with their kids to meet the stars of Giggle & Hoot, Jimmy Giggle (a person) and his sidekick Hoot (an owl puppet). As we walk into the studio, I glance left and find myself next to the world’s most beautiful woman, actor Deborah Mailman. I’m instantly star struck and shove my phone at her husband, asking him to take a photo of us together. It feels urgent. I want to share my experience. Prove that it happened. That I met her. The photo seems even more important than telling her how much I love her (which I do several times).
SCENE 4: I’m on holidays and I’m bummed. “If anyone ever looks back at Christmas 2011 they will wonder why I wasn’t there,” I announce to my family accusingly as I flick through photos on our camera. “There’s not a single photo of me on this holiday. Not. One.” A friend later points out that’s why Apple invented the ‘selfies’ self-facing camera facility on the iPhone – so that women can take photos of themselves because it rarely occurs to men to pick up a camera. Women are the self-appointed archivists and thus frequently M.I.A in the photos themselves.
SCENE 5: I’m sitting in a nice restaurant. As the waiter lays our shared dishes on the table, I hungrily reach to load up my plate. My friend’s hand slaps me down. “Wait! I need to Instagram it” she says, whipping out her phone to take arty shots of our dinner, having captured our cocktails earlier and posted them to Twitter. As Tim Ross wrote on Mamamia recently, “These days everyone’s a food blogger.”
SCENE 6: My 3yo son doesn’t want his photo taken. All my kids have gone through this stage but he is reacting more strongly than the other two did at around the same age. Whenever I try to capture a cute or significant moment, he covers his face and shouts “no photos!” like he’s a celebrity and I’m the pesky papaprazzi. This simultaneously frustrates me and also makes me panic a the thought of all the lost moments THAT ARE GOING TRAGICALLY UNCAPTURED.
Those scenes came from my life but there’s a bigger story here about the collective impact digital photography is having on everyone.
MORE PHOTOS HAVE BEEN TAKEN IN THE PAST 2 YEARS THAN IN ALL OF HISTORY COMBINED.
A lot has changed since film and processing cost money and cameras only came out on special occasions. Photography is now free, disposable and incessant. There’s no moment too prosaic to remain uncaptured. The camera phone has made us manic hoarders of visual moments and memories. And it’s stressing us out.
As someone who uses various cameras every day, internationally renowned photography blogger and father, Darren Rowse describes swinging between three feelings: “First I marvel at the technologies we have that let us record our lives. Then I wonder if by obsessively recording everything, I’m missing the moments themselves. FInally, I feel stressed about managing all the digital clutter I create. “
Why have we become so obsessed with capturing every moment, every meal, every outfit, every facial expression of our kids?
Social researcher Neer Korn believes it’s an antidote. “With politics so bogged down in negativity, we actively seek the positive by capturing the celebrations of life. It’s happiness as status symbol. If you look at Facebook, you’d conclude everyone is having a fantastic time all the time. Our photos don’t tell our real stories, they speak of partying and smiles and harmony. “
Birthdays, weddings, funerals…..every significant event now includes a mandatory slide show set to music and if you’ve ever had to create one, it can be overwhelming due to the sheer volume of available material.
Imagine what that’s going to mean at the end of someone’s life in 80 years time. How would you even begin to compile a digital slide show from hundreds of thousands of images stored on hard disks and social media sites? Compare that to the humble box of treasured memories that the old man’s family pored over.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? If you go somewhere and no photos are taken, were you ever there? Yes. Yes you were. And I know this because I read it on Facebook.
How do you handle photos: do you snap away madly or do you prefer to enjoy the moment?