real life

This is what happens when you put down the camera.

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A funny thing happened to me this summer. I put down my camera. This was highly unusual and caused me stress and relief in equal measure. You see, I’m usually obsessive about capturing happy holiday moments on film. All of them.

It began some years ago on our annual Christmas vacation when I discovered my camera could take movies (shut up. I bet you don’t know all the things your camera can do either). Almost immediately after this exciting discovery, I made another:  I was Baz Lurhman.
Granted, our budgets were disparate but what I lacked in funding, I made up for in enthusiasm. My cast were mostly compliant although occasionally – e.g.: when they refused to re-enact something I’d missed, like falling over or dropping their ice-cream – I had to send them to the naughty step until they agreed to perform spontaneously on-demand.

When that failed, I bribed them with TV.

Spare moments were spent hunched over my laptop working on my masterpiece and each year, it became more elaborate as I discovered new features on my editing software. Soon, I began lugging my computer out to dinner for movie viewings where friends would make polite noises while trying not to let the boredom show in their eyes.

I was encouraged.

Until suddenly this year, without warning, even to myself, I quit. Despite schlepping all my gear and all their associated bloody cords, I barely captured a moment of Summer Holiday ‘10/’11. No movie was made. Not even a measly slideshow exists to commemorate it.

Admittedly, putting down my camera initially made me panic at the lost…potential or something. Look! My daughter just made a cute face! The light is so beautiful! Three of our friends are standing together! Was that a dolphin? The dog looks adorably dishevelled!  We’re eating pizza! Oh! Hare Krishnas are dancing at the markets!

Once you start seeing the world through a viewfinder, slicing and dicing it into photo opportunities, it can be extremely difficult to stop.

But really, what are we trying to capture? Experiences? Feelings? And when did a camera become a better way to do this than with our other senses?

So. This year. Despite mild anxiety that THERE WAS NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE THAT WE HAD FUN, I have to say it was a relief to be off-duty. For the first time in years, I was able to just experience a holiday instead of shooting it, chopping it up, discarding the unphotogenic bits and then consigning it to a screen. Without even realising it, the pressure implicit in trying to capture every amusing, attractive or significant moment had begun to suffocate me. Because there are millions of these moments and billions of insignificant ones and I’m sick of grabbing wildly at them all.
When did the documenting of our life begin to consume the living of it? Am I the only one with camera fatigue? Seems not because when I began asking people about it, I heard many similar sentiments of overwhelm and burnout.

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My friend Amanda texted me this week: “I’m holidaying with a divine family from Hong Kong who have recorded every waking hour of their 2yo daughter. Meanwhile, I forgot my camera and despite having 10 posh monogrammed albums for Milla that I ordered when she was born, I retired injured after her 3rd birthday party. That leaves seven empty albums to taunt me about the lack of documentation of my daughter’s last four years. At least school photos help ease the guilt somewhat.”

My friend Kate’s father was a refugee from Yugoslavia and her family have three photos of him as a child. Their scarcity makes them precious. She points out: “We have a bazillion photos of our own kids – even school photo packs have a minimum of 12 shots! – so they’re not precious objects like photos once were.”

Too true. Digital photography has decimated the currency of photographs. They’ve become background noise, stored by the thousands on our computers and posted on Facebook and Flickr collecting cyber dust.

old fashioned film

Taking photos used to be something special. First, you had to buy film and with 24 or 36 shots, you took them carefully. Then you paid again for processing and even more after that for frames and albums. It was expensive and time consuming.

But now? NOW? It may be free after the initial outlay for your phone or camera but the options can be overwhelming. Many people have had their relationship with photography cruelled by technology. “I was fine with my Canon automatic,” laments one friend. “But all this downloading and uploading and ENHANCING and cropping and sharing…it’s too hard and I’m over it

And that’s before you even decide what to do with your photos. Facebook naturally but what else? A slideshow? Burn them onto a disc? Print them at home and make albums? Go online and create a photobook? Or construct one of those tricky walls with different sized frames? Perhaps you’ll make your photos into a calendar or a mug or a keyring or a poster or a bag or a fridge magnet or a business card or a nervous breakdown? And would you like an enlargement with that?

I won’t have any of those to remember Summer Holiday ’10/’11. But ironically, it may be my most memorable one yet.

What’s your relationship like with your camera? Are you a compulsive snapper? Album maker?

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