If you’ve walked through a museum lately you might have seen this new trend of people walking through and using their iPads or phones to take pictures of the pictures. I watched one woman taking a picture of each painting AND each museum label. She was getting frustrated when people actually walked between her and her iPad to look at the painting or read the information on the label. I was getting frustrated watching her look at each painting through her device and not actually LOOKING AT THE PAINTING IN FRONT OF HER. I wanted to grab her and say, “hey, put that damn thing down and just enjoy the art!”. My teens wanted to go tell her that she could just Google the paintings instead of carefully framing each shot on her iPad. I began to imagine the world’s most boring vacation slide show taking place later at her house. It was then that I noticed how many other people in the museum were doing the same thing she was.
There was a horror movie that came out several years ago called The Blair Witch Project. The premise is that you are watching found footage taken by a few students making a documentary about an old witch’s tale with a hand held video camera. Things go bump in the woods, there are scary noises and shadows among the trees. The students become hysterical and terrified. At one point, one of them realizes how much less scary it is to be in the dark woods looking through the camera instead of looking straight in to the darkness. They start to argue over who gets to hold the camera instead of dealing with the scary noises and dark woods directly.
The camera puts a buffer between us and our life. These days, most of us carry a camera around in our pocket all day long, ready to be whipped out and pointed at any thing, any time. We walk around with a distraction and buffering device that we can use any time to step away mentally from the world around us.
Sometimes this can be a good thing. Vivienne McMaster teaches women to see themselves more kindly in her Be Your Own Beloved programs. I suspect that one part of the power of her work is getting a little distance, the camera creating enough space to see yourself with fresh eyes. That inner critic doesn’t get a direct shout in to your ear when you are focused on finding angles and light.
Sometimes this can be a less than good thing. We walk through our family adventures, taking picture after picture, staying on the periphery so we can get a good shot. Standing on the sidelines, sitting on the edge of the pool, or staying on the deck at the lake. Instead of jumping in ourselves, we give ourselves permission to stay disengaged from the fun because we are taking pictures.
This is not to say that I will stop taking pictures and posting on Instagram and FaceBook. I know that sometimes taking photographs can bring me deeper into moments of my life, helping to see myself, my family and everyday things around me in unexpected ways. People like Catherine Just are genius at taking us deeper into our lives through the magic of the lens and light.
But I am trying to become more mindful of the space my devices can put between me and what is happening in front of me, particularly as I was never a person to take many photos before I had a camera that I carry around all the time in the form of a phone. I never took a lot of photos because I don’t like the feeling of being apart that the camera creates for me. I don’t want a buffer between me and playing with my kids. I don’t want a buffer between me and the warm touch of my love’s hand on my skin. I want to be fully present in my life (of course, I can think of a few moments I’d like a buffer for – I’m looking at you mammogram).
There will be plates of food so beautiful I want to capture the image before I dig in. There will be images of my kids that I want to hold on to before they grow in to their next age. There will be golden hours where the light hits my handsome man’s face just so and I don’t want to forget.
I know there are ways that the camera can be used to take me deeper in to a moment, not further from it. I also see our phones becoming a numbing device that lets us slip away from the present so easily we don’t even notice we are doing it. But the moment that the camera comes between me and fully experiencing my days, it’s time to put it away and be here. It’s time to BE here. According to my kids, Google already took a picture of everything already anyway.