Beatrice Homestead, 2005
(Click on image to see larger)
After I commented the other day that I always try to have some kind of camera with me, my Flickr friend Jen asked:
“Why do we always wish we had a camera? Why is it so hard to enjoy [the experience of seeing something] just for the experience it is? Is it our desire to share, or maybe to remember, or just to capture the beauty of nature and the nature of beauty?”
I can only address Jen’s questions from my own experience, which, the more I think about it, the more I question just how mentally healthy my response sounds.
But here it is:
What I tell myself, at least, is that I don’t want to miss a chance at what might be a meaningful photograph.
You know how it goes. You find yourself faced with conditions that make for a transcendent visual moment. But you don’t have a camera. #^$@!!**^!
Here’s where we venture into the realm of the obsessive. I sometimes get very frustrated, even unable to enjoy the experience of something, if I don’t have a camera.
If I don’t capture some artifact of that transcendent visual moment—and, to be honest, it doesn’t have to be all that transcendent—there’s a very good chance I’ll forget it. My brain’s a crowded place. I need notes and pictures and recordings.
The nice part of this is that when I see those notes and pictures or hear those recorded sounds again, I’m back in the moment. The sound of swallows will always take me back to Florence. The smell of a roasting chicken covered with garlic will take me back to Los Caracoles in Barcelona. A photo of the rugged California coast will recall the wind against my face in Big Sur.
If I don’t have those artifacts to jog my memory, it’s as if I wasn’t there. I won’t forget I was there. It’s just that I won’t have much command over the details of those memories that made those experiences so rich.
As a child I experienced a lot of unhappiness and depression. I developed ways of compartmentalizing unhappy experiences and feelings. This willful forgetfulness protected me. But it also made it very hard for me to be open to the full richness of experience until I was well into my twenties. Only then, and in the company of new and trusted fiends, could I let the walls down between experience and me.
Many years later now, I’m slaphappy about experiencing simple things. To answer Jen’s question, I can be mindful and enjoy “the beauty of nature and the nature of beauty.” But I still feel I’ve missed out on something if I don’t bring home some of that moment with me.
As for the photograph above, when the camera I had with me in Beatrice, Nebraska, when I first tried to make this photograph broke, I went to the closest store and bought another one. How’s that for obsession?