One of the earliest discussions to emerge during the Zap conference centered around the what seems to be a growing drive to record everything and every moment (by twittering it, Plazing it, photographing it, etc.)
The questions that emerged were: Does recording the moment change it? In recording it, are we essentially mediating it for ourselves, taking a step back and observing rather than simply experiencing? Are we stepping outside the moment in the act of recording (or thinking about recording) it, essentially separating ourselves from the experience to a certain degree?
Opinions were mixed. Thinking about it more, I believe that recording a moment does, in fact, separate you from it to a certain extent. And I think that the more you record or think about recording, the less present you actually are.
A few years ago I was in Amsterdam to attend a conference. Naturally we went a little early and stayed a little late so we could take time to experience the city, and during that time I took hundreds of photographs, most of which were just terrible. In spite of taking all these photos, however, my most memorable moment in Amsterdam was when I encountered the works of Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum. They are absolutely breathtaking. Looking at prints in books just doesn’t come anywhere close to the experience of seeing the originals. It was overwhelming and deeply emotional and really quite astonishing for me. I have never had so visceral a reaction to art before, and it was entirely unexpected. I will never, ever forget that experience. And I didn’t take a single picture while I was there. Not one. And my other memories of Amsterdam are of moments where I wasn’t bothering to take photographs. Dinner with friends and coworkers. Having drinks with Rob at a small side street cafe. Talking to some locals while exploring the city’s nightlife. Almost getting killed by a ravaging horde of cyclists before I figured out how traffic worked. Sitting in the lobby watching people walk by the hotel in the morning, drinking insanely good coffee.
The photographs I took? I don’t remember experiencing the thing in the photo, I remember taking the photo. Recording the moment separated me from it, and it now feels almost fake.
We’re going to France soon. We’ve never been before, and I’m really excited about the trip. While I expect I will take my camera with me wherever we go, I am going to be much more deliberate and thoughtful about what I photograph. Rather than taking hundreds of photos of everything, I’m going to take only a few — and only if they’re worthy of being photographs — and spend more of my time actually being in the moment, paying attention, experiencing. What I learned from Amsterdam is that the strongest memories are made this way, not by flipping through a shoebox of pictures when you get home.