With My Eyes or a Camera?

“Are you taking lots of photographs?” my friend Mary asked during a telephone conversation with her granddaughter, Melissa, who was traveling in Italy.

“No, Grandma, I’m not taking photographs,” the experienced, young traveler replied, “I decided on this trip I’d be in the moment.”

Her response highlights my dilemma: I don’t travel with a camera and rarely take pictures with my phone. I tell myself I prefer to use my senses to soak up sights and experiences, that a camera would require me to frame, focus, consider lighting, and tell people where to stand.

Seeing with my senses rather than a camera has advantages. A few years ago, Joel and I drove home to Craig from Denver and saw a tower of gentle flame on top of a mountain pass at dusk: a great pillar of rainbow standing tall among snow-glazed trees, its vivid hues illuminating the the shadowed sky and mountain. I focused on the sight for several long moments, memorizing its details and capturing its splendor.

I still see the vibrant column; and it’s brighter, bigger, and more colorful in my mind than than in the photographs Joel took with his phone. Photographs sometimes disappoint.

tower of flame on Rabbit Ears

On the other hand, I spend long minutes studying the excellent photographs taken by others; and I enjoy the glimpses of a photographer’s mind my blog friends provide when they explain their planning, processes, and problems. I happily peruse pictures my friends post on Facebook and treasure the photographs I have of my family and friends.

Photographs record more accurately than my mind. Too often, when I look at an old photo, I discover my memory deceives me: The battered family car my sister and I stood in front of was blue not green; and, though I smiled as I held Barbara’s hand, it was not the sweet moment between sisters I remembered: instead, Barbara was acting like I was Godzilla: struggling to escape my iron grip and scowling defiantly.

Frankly, old though I am, a few years ago when I saw the photo, I wanted to pinch her.

Photographs also allow me to experience sights I will never see.Without family picture albums, I would have no idea how Mom and Dad looked during my early years. I have a sense of them — their presence and voices — but it is through photographs I see the people they were when young. I used to scrutinize the photographs of my parents, looking for signs of myself in them, so I could be sure I wasn’t adopted. Like Barbara.

I seem to need both photographs and the freedom to exist  in the moment. So I’ll continue observing as keenly as I can and spending time reflecting on the photographs taken by others.