I have a stubborn outlook concerning pictures. I find them absolutely magical, but something to be pursued sparingly and with great attention and feeling. I believe in living in the moment first and foremost, and then should the connection be there, I’ll snap a photo.
I place a profound reverence on memory and choice experience. As I get older, I find precious memories fading away…this inspires me to treasure this unique life I’m living. I have a hard time engaging in life while behind a lens, or vicariously watching another, or addicted to words on a page that show me someone else someplace else if I feel these take me away from the present, or the emotion, or the integrity.
No matter how I choose to exist, my life is pure and unadulterated. And on the topic of pictures, I worry that we’ve bastardized the magic of a memory.
To look at the principle of “A picture is worth a thousand words,” for me, is incredibly accurate. I want a picture to move me after the moment is gone. But, to freeze that moment in time, it needs to be entrancing enough to pull me out of it for the slightest breath to conceive it as a picture.
I don’t want every one of my memories for the rest of my life, because then they don’t stay personal…should they all stay permanent, I fear they’d become obligatory.
There’s a lyric from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods that I’ve always loved. To set the scene a bit, Mr. Sondheim uses the woods to represent the vast, full world in all its complexity, danger, adversity, seasons, and of course, magic. And throughout this musical, a variety of characters, who at first are unrelated to each other, all converge in the wood due to individual and selfish pursuits before realizing the connections they share and how far they can go together.
One of these characters is the Baker’s Wife (yes, that is the character’s name), and she breaks into song after having a moment with one of the Princes. In a moment of weakness, of pure coincidence, passion, fear, and impending danger from a giant, these two meet in the wood and make love to each other. For the Prince, he bears no doubts for this action (despite being married) because that’s what Princes do.
The Baker’s Wife, however, does doubt. She can’t believe a prince is paying attention to her. And after the encounter, she can’t fathom the consequences it means to her life and marriage.
After their moment, the Prince leaves her as quickly as he appeared, and she sings a song, literally beginning with the line, “What was that?” And her song invites some of the most amazing and constructive self-reflection and honesty I’ve encountered in public storytelling.
She isn’t afraid to ask profound questions and face their answers. This leads her to the momentous line of which took me on this tangent. She sings, “Oh if life were made of moments…Even now and then a bad one—! But if life were only moments, then you’d never know you had one.”
If we’re continually searching for the grand existence or experience—always on the lookout, ready to gauge, assess, and array—then any of those next moments to follow–should they fit such a description–lose portions of their beauty, elegance, magnificence, and profound simplicity.
A picture is meant to capture a moment. Will we have the faculty of discerning the discrepancy between something momentous to us versus muscle memory or the need for saturation?
Therein falls my concern.
Now, to balance this proverbial picture I’ve established, let me share some of my favorite moments to capture.
I love nature and landscapes. I love creation that is beyond my ability to influence, create, or manipulate. I go on a hike, or on a motorcycle ride, or sit on a deck enjoying a view, and I can’t help but feel immense satisfaction at what lies beyond me.
For me, those moments invoke some of my most honest moments of reflection and help me further understand portions of my soul, and the capacity to recognize God’s imprint on the world.
I love panoramas, desiring to capture as much of what I see as possible, especially when many sides are present. One of my favorite pictures is in the west desert of Utah, with a stunning field of grain reflected in the setting sun on one half, and a dark, cloudy, pre-storm setting on the other. I love it so much!
I’m not the biggest fan of people in pictures, but if the opportunity arises, I love extravagant and awkward faces. I feel like those show so many more sides of a person than a simple “Say cheese” or “Smile for the birdy.” However, conversely, I find incredible emotional value in having so many memories and pictures of family and friends to choose from.
So this is where I conclude my musings: like anything, there’s a personal balance involved. I don’t get to decide how people choose to value their memories, or why they take pictures, and they don’t get to do that for me.
Do I believe that we’ve abused the nature and integrity of pictures? Yes. But that opinion is seeded in personal, emotional, and natural inclinations. I want something to be meaningful not because I deem it so, but because it shows me that it is.
If I look too hard for it, history shows me I’ll miss my mark. I like the idea of the surprise; life knows how mic-dropping fantastic it is, and it doesn’t need me to define that.