Please unplug and be present with us.
That was the request my daughter and her soon to be hubby made at their recent wedding.
Apparently, people took it seriously.
The day after the wedding, our daughter texted me:
“Mom do you have any pictures of us from last night?”
The answer was no.
I did have a few photos of some family visiting from out of town, and the odd shot of flowers and décor, but none of the happy couple.
But I replied that I would ask around, so I messaged a few people.
The most common response:
“I didn’t take any pictures.”
I’m guessing that your reaction right now is one of these two:
Oh how lovely everyone just unplugged for the evening.
OMG how did no one take any pictures?!
First let me reassure you that there was a lovely wedding photographer who captured the entire event, so it’s not that there aren’t any pictures from the wedding, there just aren’t a lot taken by guests.
Our camera-centric world
In the camera-centric world we live in right now it is a little unexpected that people chose to not take photos.
People take photos of everything these days. They capture their entire day in a series of pictures that they then turn around and post on social media. “Selfie” is now part of our common language.
It’s funny how our relationship with images has evolved.
Back in the day, cameras and phones were two completely separate things. When I got married, no one was carrying a phone, but they probably had a camera.
We took pictures that ended up in albums – remember those peel and stick beauties that we came to learn were kryptonite for photographs?
We were attached to the pictures we took, but the taking of photos was not a continuous thing. You snapped a photo and then you put the camera away.
Life was not experienced through a lens.
Going to the dogs
Years ago on a European trip, we made the rather precarious drive to a mountain pass in the Alps to visit the St. Bernard Monastery where at the time the monks still raised the adorable dogs. This predated digital photography, so we had multiple canisters of film and took a ton of pictures.
Inadvertently somewhere along that trip, we tossed out the bag that contained the exposed film. Imagine our reaction upon realizing that the photos from at least 2 weeks of our trip were no more.
Fast forward to today and I don’t feel any regret about not having those pictures. What I do have are tons of wonderful memories of the St. Bernard dogs and many other experiences on that travel adventure.
In many respects I’ve come to realize that photos are nice but not necessary.
It is the fully present experience of anything that is far more important – the delicious meal, the beautiful sunset, the spectacular scenery, the joyful celebration of a family event like a wedding.
When asked what they would take from their burning house, many people still include a photograph of some description on their list.
So yes, physical photos have meaning to us, but have we begun to lose sight of what is really important?
What is really important?
Someone said to me:
If I don’t have photos, I’m afraid I won’t remember the details of important events.
I bet that is a common concern.
Sure, photos often trigger memories of things we haven’t thought about in a while.
Perhaps though they are simply fun “throwback Thursday” moments, not deeply meaningful peak experiences.
I’d venture to say that we remember what is important at any time. It’s unrealistic to expect to recall all the details of any event. And why would we want to?
There are a small group of people in the world who have something called “superior autobiographical memory” which means they can recall every single detail of every day of their lives. That sounds exhausting.
What might be realistic for us is bringing our full attention to the sensory experience of life which in turn will help to create memories.
It’s the sound, or smell, or taste that locks in a memory. Current technology can not create that for us.Bringing our full attention to the sensory experience of life will help to create memories. It’s the sound, or smell, or taste that locks it in, not your smart phone photo. Click To Tweet
Think about your most memorable meal. Bet you don’t have photo of it, but you can still recall the experience.
Mine was a bowl of wild boar stew in a small town in Tuscany. I can still feel the overwhelming desire to actually lick the plate so as to not miss one drop of it. It was only my good manners upbringing that made me hold myself back!
Don’t get me wrong.
I love photography. I just want to ensure it is in service of me, not as a substitute for fully participating in life.
With the vast number of photos that people take these days, it would be interesting to know how many people go back and look at, or even organize their huge digital collection. Do they simply snap a moment in time and then move on to the next photo op?
Maybe there’s a different opportunity in front of us.
If we can’t separate the camera from the phone, maybe we need to separate ourselves from our device more often. Not worry so much about whether we’ve gotten the best shot.
Perhaps we can give ourselves more space to see life and participate in life with our senses instead of our lenses.
Just trust yourself to be able to record your own memories.