I’ve had a camera around my neck for as long as I can remember. I’ve lived behind my lens in everything – documenting both the everyday and life’s greatest milestones with the same attention for detail. The camera is my magnifying glass, the photographs - my record. Together, the two keep calling me back – an endless dance between art, experience and archive.
Maybe you are like I am and the clicking sound of the camera’s shutter is a familiar symphony. Maybe you look for a photograph in everything – pairing every sunset with 144 photos, chasing good light and pausing at every vista. Or maybe you’ve shied away from fancy titles like ‘artist’ or ‘photographer’ – defaulting instead to a simple love for your iPhone and the experiences you find. Wherever you land on the spectrum makes no difference. We are all storytellers with an eye and experiences uniquely our own.
And stories do we tell.
Take one look through old photo books or walk through the halls of a gallery and you’ll find our photographs – yours and mine – are the human experience in a single frame. It is the giggle cry at Gate A26 after six months gone. It is the blessing of 32 years married. It is the familiarity of the face she’s made since age two. It’s the gratitude for that plane ticket and its journey that made you. It’s June’s happy and February’s quiet.
We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone. We take photos to recall - with greater vibrancy - those experiences that have shaped and made us. We take photos to bridge distance and shorten time, to lend legacy to the little things and life to the forgotten. And we take photos to feel like artists on a Tuesday – and storytellers on a Sunday.
Our photographs – as grand of a meaning as they sometimes take on – are also an ongoing conversation. Look, today, at the limitless creativity and abundant perspective emerging – thanks to the cameras that fit in our back pocket. With the click of a button, we can share our truths and our meals with equal ease. We can visually chart our history and our weekends with pixels made up of micro moments. I can find healing from your story and you can find laughter in mine. We can find pause in those places.
AYet I’ve often wondered – in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead – why we look for pause in the noise, instead of right under our nose – in the experiences we’re standing in? Why do we continue to digitally document our lives long after the day’s work is done? Am I distracting myself from the experience by tinkering head-down with a device? If there are only minutes to enjoy that pink evening sky, would it better serve my life to take it all in - sans camera?
I don’t have the answers nor am I qualified to set rules around when to put the camera away and when to keep on clicking. But I do believe we owe it to ourselves to authentically examine how photography fits into our own lives - paying mind to when it enriches and when it detracts from our now.
And so – in the spirit of sweet sweet ambiguity – I know only this. Let your camera be your art, and its images your history. Let your lens carry you through new worlds – and allow your photos to live on as a new world for others. Study every square inch of a photograph and celebrate its tones and angles. But study, too, your place in the experiences that shape you. Save room for life to make art for you and you alone.
And then – after all the photos have been taken – put the camera down. Let the last photo you didn’t take live on in the quiet place of your memory.
Return there often.