Picture This

If you’ve taken a photo on a cell phone today, you may need an intervention. Several times in the last week I’ve seen articles filled with hand wringing over cell phone use, and more specifically, using them for taking pictures. While the titles of the articles grabbed my attention, after reading them I found myself in almost total disagreement. 

The argument goes like this; if you are stopping to take a photo using your phone, you are removing yourself from real life into sort of a pseudo experience rather than a fully present, personally interactive involvement. Apparently only the instant something happens is of significance, after that, well you're present somewhere else. 

There is a presumption that if you are using your phone to capture a moment, you are removing yourself from that moment in time. Apparently, people who write that stuff are people who seem to forget that the camera was invented long before the cell phone. In 1021 AD an Arab physicist created the pinhole camera, which projected an image to a surface to be traced. In 1816 the first partially successful photograph was made. George Eastman sold the first Kodak camera in 1888, and in 1900 the Brownie was mass marketed and that one model alone sold through the 1960’s. It has been the rare family that doesn’t own at least one camera


noun pho·tog·ra·phy \fə-ˈtä-grə-fē\ :   the art, process or job of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface (as film or an optical sensor)

A really good camera, one with good optics and focal options has always been pricey, and not too many people invested in them unless they were passionate about photography. Most people had one Instamatic or Polaroid and in my family, we all wanted a turn.  My dad had miles and miles of 8mm film, a lot of which had now been transferred to disc. In his home office bookshelves lined one wall, and most of what was on them was photo albums. In the years before his death, he started organizing albums by each of his four children and then their families, by our pets and by trips.  

Three years ago, my Dad died. Last week, my Mom died. Four months before that, my sister, the oldest of us four, died. Today, every family photo is more than just a memory of a time or place, it is the proof of a life, of a love, of a relationship that I don’t want to be without. Even if no one is in the photo, it provokes a remembrance of who was there, where we were, why we thought that moment was significant enough to record.

Yesterday one of my brothers posted a photo to my Facebook timeline. He wrote “Not sure what year, or what puppy but this is one of my fav family photos of all time.” It was a picture of me at about 18, hair in a towel and holding a newborn Queensland Blue Heeler. I’m so old now that I didn’t recognize the girl in the photo at first, but what most struck me was what my brother wrote. The memory he had, the fondness for this particular photo, and for me. Today, he would have taken it on a cell phone. In 35 years, looking at it on a computer, would it be any less a fond memory?

Cell phone cameras, point and shoot, even entry level DSLR’s have made everyone a photographer in ways and times we couldn’t be 20 years ago. Is that bad? Okay, the duck face selfie-knock it off. Really. But why is the picture of your 3 year old granddaughter on a swing different today than on a Brownie camera in 1960? Not only was I present to take it, but it will be present with me as long as I have it.

I’ve seen the satirical videos of the mom who takes a photo of every waking moment, and I get the warnings about a society of selfie obsessed narcissistic kids. I guess I’m just enough of a skeptic to not buy into the fear mongering of the media that has an ad for a cell phone on the same page as the article decrying their evils.

This is a photo of my friends stopping dead in their tracks to take a photo.

This is what we all took a photo of at the same time.

What I will remember from this is the moment we all had our breath taken away and paused, despite our hurry, despite our worries (which were great and very real that day) and marveled. We talked about Jesus coming in clouds like this someday. I’ll remember that in a few hours after this, these women hugged me and gave me tissue and saved me dinner when I got the call my Mom had left for heaven.

Keep making memories. Sometimes, that’s all we have left. 


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