A discussion on a chat group recently erupted into a pro-camera and anti-camera debate. Rather than anti-camera exactly, someone pointed out the merits of being in the moment, staying still without click-click-click and moving on. Because debates these days are so polarized and less about seeing another person's point of view I hesitated to get involved.
I'm of two minds: "You are right, and you are also right." I've taken amateur photos nearly my whole life, but I also enjoy staying still and just observing. As a child, I begged for a camera and received a Kodak Instamatic when I was seven. My first pictures were nature pictures, one of them was of blurry ducks in a pond.
Why did I want a camera? My dad took pictures, mostly as documentation of events or the annual family picture, which is one reason to click: to collect and compare from year to year, to do research. I find I do that weekly now, taking pictures of ducks and their cohorts. I can go back and see when the Canada geese had goslings last year and how many they had. It's not like "You've seen one duck, you've see them all."
When I was thirteen I figured out I could arrange forms and colors, create a still life to shoot. Formal reasons: shape, color, line, composition, all of those come into play no matter what pictures I snap. The lighting is important too. And whatever new view delights. Do I look for the shot or is that how I see? learned or innate? Both? I don't know. Here's the first, I think, another blurry one in white, purple and green, arranged on my pre-teen bedroom floor.
Today, the magic of snapping a moment, then waiting a week for the prints to be developed, being surprised, forgetting then remembering again, is lost. Digital photography gives us instant gratification. Take one. Take one more. Keeping taking until you get a good one; it doesn't cost anything*. Click-click-click, move on.
The benefit is that one can get that really great shot, or if not perfect clean it up later. And then share it. The focus on sharing and getting a response, looking to the future, can be what distracts a person from being present and entirely in the moment. From the news we've seen the hazard of a selfie with beast, cliff, and man: people taking risks for that great shot to share. We've got our warning.
Being in the moment is part of the process. For me, I watch for a while first, listen, assess the light, then frame the shot. Click. When I get home I often see objects or animals I hadn't seen then, wouldn't have been able to see at the time because they were so small or hidden. This is partly from the benefit of a 10x optical zoom lens on a point-and-shoot (the old Instamatic, with its flashcubes, is long retired on a shelf). I can't absorb everything at once, so the picture adds to the experience for me. The picture can serve as a memory jog, or it can inspire a poem or be a poem itself, capturing the mood of a moment.
On a walk up the hill recently, I looked, as usual, for the bird feeder suctioned to a house's front window, but it wasn't there. Realizing it was in full sun, rather than the shade I remembered, I looked for the tree where the chickadees and titmice perched before eating. It, too, wasn't there. Then I saw the stump; it had been the neighbor's tree. I knew a tree had been there because it had captured my attention and I taken a picture of it years before.
Being present is always a balancing act: enjoying the moment and thinking ahead; being in the moment and being reminded of the past. Being in the moment and delighting in what is there.
Document. Art. Share. Compare. Learn. All good.
*A wedding photographer recently told me she shot digitally, and in both black and white and color film. She said it costs around $70 now to get a roll of film processed. (I'm assuming that is a roll of 36.)