If you ever came to my apartment, you might notice that while I have beautiful artwork hanging, I do not have personal photographs of people or memories anywhere in view. If you traveled back in time with me to visit any dorm room I occupied or even my bedroom growing up, limited-photo-living has always been the case. It has become an aesthetic preference for me at this point. But I began to wonder if there is something more to why I find photographs so difficult to live with.
Before I continue, I want to clarify that I highly respect photography as a visual art form. I have some beautiful photographic art in my collection. Rather, I am talking in this particular post about the photo-documentation of one’s life and experiences. The topic of personal photographs is on my mind due to a series of events: a daytrip to Pennsylvania to visit my parents, the need to open an Instagram account to interact with our Mind Body Dancer community, and a recent dig into my personal archive for a document, during which I encountered some old performance photos.
I have never been a big photo-taker. Artistically, I think composing a shot is fascinating, and I am in awe of the combination of technique and vision it takes to be a skillful photographer. Somehow I never seem to remember to bring my camera and if I do, I don’t end up using it. I have always left the photos to someone else. Perhaps I am too engaged in the moment to think to pause and capture what is happening. Perhaps I am not skilled or surreptitious enough to do it well and that is what holds me back.
In addition to not being a practiced photographer, I have always been frustrated that when taking a snapshot of a special place or event, or of someone I love, the image does not capture them the way my eyes actually see them. There is a limitation to how true the end result is to the source. Again, I am not talking about artistic photography where you might desire a different result or interpretation. I just can’t get a photo to stand up to the reality that has been experienced!
For instance, I drove to my parents’ property last weekend and it was absolutely breathtaking. The colors, textures, and layers of trees and stone were something I wanted to hold onto for inspiration so I snapped a few shots…not even close. The blues were not deep enough, the contrast of red flowers and green leaves were too dull. The luscious world I could see and experience was flat and lifeless in comparison when captured this way. I gave up. I kicked off my shoes and walked around to experience it with my toes, hands, and senses instead.
So, my first challenge to living a life with photos is that what I see is never what I get.
Secondly, I find photo-documentation to be a complicated medium to use when telling the stories of our lives. As I attempt to connect for business reasons on Instagram, I think a lot about my young students who have been curating their whole lives in social media with photography. My personal photos were jammed into a photo album I might choose to show someone. They were not broadcast to everyone I knew in an instant. I wonder about this new mode of sharing. Are my students really telling the whole story? Is the full picture of who they are available in just a few snapshots? I hope not. And I hope they do not view the photographs of others and think that life is only made up of beautiful or special moments. That would be a tough expectation to work with. If we were being truthful, we would take photos of ourselves that would capture our more dull and vulnerable moments too. I would love to see a social media profile showing images of the bad days too. That would be a more honest and interesting life story. It sets the stage for realistic living and managing the ebb and flow that is there for each of us always.
Finally, there is the challenge of photographs pulling you out of the present. I recently found some old photos of me dancing in the early 90’s. On one hand, I love looking at the images of the beginnings of my professional dance career. But on the other hand, those images tempt me away from the present moment. In remembering those days, I began to glorify what it felt like to only be focused on dancing. It was simple (and believe me, “simple” sounds pretty appealing right now!). Yet since then, other goals and experiences in art and education have allowed me to accomplish far more than I knew I was capable of back then. I see that young dancer and I tell her I have a rich life, which still includes dance (she would be happy to know how truly grateful I am for that). I put the photos away so I could focus on today. Honestly, it is impossible to compare and contrast two different times and spaces. Reminiscing is interesting to a point, but then you might find yourself in the past, comparing it to your present. How helpful is such a practice? Are we capable of letting reminiscence happen without judging the present?
I guess it might be odd that I am content to remember my life's moments via memories formed through senses and stories and reflections instead of through snapshots. However, it is interesting to note that the recent events that sent me on this thoughtful journey about my relationship with photos were not extraordinary in nature. Perhaps that is the essence of what I am curious about. If I were too busy waiting for the next photo-perfect moment, would I have missed what was happening in between those moments? It seems to me that the truest moments in life are not what we choose to put into picture frames or post online...rather, they are the ones that are really about living.
What is your relationship with photographs? What are your thoughts? I welcome all comments because this is a topic I am curious about for larger intellectual reasons. How does what we see inform what we expect, and how are images being chosen to tell a specific story? Do you find photos from your past inspiring or limiting in framing the present moment?
- TaraMarie Perri