I once thought that I wanted to be a photographer. So, I bought a fancy camera and I took some fancy photos. Then I thought that I didn’t want to be a photographer. So I sold it to a friend. Then I decided that I wanted to be a photographer, so I bought it back from that friend. I sold it again – but to someone else.
I actually don’t want to be a photographer, but I do want the photographer’s eye, the rush of being in the right place at the right time… but most of all, I want the photographer’s evidence, I want the memories that bear witness to joy, to humanity, to a life happening, sometimes beautiful but half-noticed, all around me.
Anyone who’s been in a study group with my elaborate flow-charts knows that I’m a visual learner and thinker. Consequently, my attraction to photographs is not surprising. I am not alone; this is why people kept photo albums then and Flickr, iPhoto, Picasa, and Instagrams now. With two pages of filters and a few finger taps, a horrendously lit Midwestern afternoon is transformed into a scene straight out of a Fleet Foxes music video. And instantly shared.
Today, we can snap, edit, beautify, tag, and share photos with unprecedented frequency, speed and ease, for better or for– Ah, hold on, “let me take a selfie.” History was once oral (I’ve heard), then written, but if you want our attention now, it’s gotta be photostreamed (hopefully with the Ken Burns effect and musical themes selected by Wes Anderson)!
NPR recently interviewed psychologist Linda Henkel, who researches an inverse link between photographing and remembering an event. #FakeMemory. She contends that we often rely on our cameras not to help our memory (which they can actually impair), but instead to brag about our beautiful life, sharing far, fast and wide. Oof. Henkel invites us, instead, to mindfully consider “why” we snap, share, and save.
Why do I? Photos start stories – stories that my memory happily grabs and expands to climax and completion, narrating grace as it breaks in, again and again.
Most importantly, and least surprisingly, these stories are stories of encounters – moments of “I-You” connection, moments when I meet God-in-action, the Spirit in community, Christ’s face in my brothers and sisters’. I need look no further than my family igloo photo from 1996 or the collection from our 2010 JV Olympics to jog the story, to re-root myself in that scene of community, spirit, and grace. We all saw it, but someone (thank you!) snapped it and shared it for a story-starter later on.
My photostream is a long hallway 824 doors long, from 1987’s baptism to this week’s shenanigans through bonfires, broken arms, bicycle trips, Olympics, road trips, perpetual vows, coyotes and igloos. Each photo is a door back into the deep emotion of a moment, the solo or peopled encounters that have shaped – and can continue to shape – my days.