Since the beginning of the school year, my friend Elana has been bugging me — relentlessly — about the dearth of photos of us on Facebook. Recently, my roommate Kelsey has joined in the pestering. Despite their insistence that we need to “document our friendship,” I’ve been putting them off (somewhat successfully) for a while.
My relationship with photography is weird. As a medium, I love photography. I appreciate the technical aspects that go into creating an image. In high school, I took an intro to photography class. I learned how to load film into an SLR camera and develop pictures in a darkroom. We also dabbled in digital SLR cameras, which would seem less difficult but nonetheless require some essential “know-how” — you still have to understand the way light can be manipulated.
And I appreciate the power that photography can have. When I was in Washington D.C. last year, I visited the Newseum, a fantastic museum dedicated to the history of journalism. One of the exhibits displayed a collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. My family and I spent a large chunk of time wandering through the gallery, and I was shocked at the emotions I felt looking at some of the images. Maybe it was the scale of the prints (many were HUGE) and the concentration of all these famous photographs that made the experience so intense, but I walked out of that gallery affected. It’s weird for me to think that a representation of something can have the same effect on me as a concrete, 3-D object.
Yet, despite all this appreciation for photography, I still have some issues with it. My parents gave me my first non-disposable camera when I was a sophomore in high school about to travel to Europe for the first time. At first, I turned them down. I thought to myself, “Self, what could I possibly use a camera for? I’d rather not pose in front of every noteworthy thing in Europe. I don’t want to be a stupid tourist.” But I’m glad I finally accepted the camera. It was fun to take goofy pictures of me and my friends, and I took some beautiful shots that wouldn’t be found on postcards.
But there was this one girl on my trip (there’s always one) who took more than a thousand pictures during the seven days we were in Europe. She would stand in front of the Eiffel Tower, for example, hold the camera in front of her and snap a picture of her face. And then, she would take the exact same picture different ways! One smiling, one with her hair this way, one straight-faced, one with her hair that way, etc. It bothered me. She even ran out of room on a memory card and, instead of deleting the multiple duplicates, spent an entire morning searching for another memory card.
It made absolutely no sense to me. I would rather experience Europe than try to document every single facet of my experience. Everything in this world can be used for good or for evil, and that girl was using photography for evil. She wasn’t “documenting” her experience, she was creating an experience that she didn’t have. Her European experience was taking pictures of herself in front of famous things. And that’s really sad.
So, getting back to my friends and their insistence that we need to “document” our friendship. My retaliation was always, “We are friends. Let’s just be friends. Why do we need to document that? We know it’s happening and we’ll remember the good things for a while.” I was wary that “documenting our friendship” would turn into taking-pictures-of-us-every-single-time-we-go-out-or-do-anything-equally-insignificant — a Facebook-fueled epidemic. I had seen the dark side of photography, and in no way did I want something super important to me to be compromised. I did not want my friendships to be turned into a false experience.
So I avoided it. Looking back, I missed documenting some important events. There are no pictures from my birthday last year or my first day of classes as a freshman. With my friends’ nagging in mind, as well as a bit of my own regret, I reconsidered my annoyance with photography for this year’s Halloween festivities. I volunteered to take pictures of me and my friends in our costumes. And I have to say, it wasn’t the awful experience I had been dreading. I realized something that I knew all along — there is a balance. It doesn’t have to be photography or no photography. You can still experience something even while taking two seconds to snap a shot.
Too bad I forgot the camera cord at home and can’t download the pics to my computer. Have fun waiting for the memories, Elana and Kelsey!