Stopping the moments from running away

A good snapshot stops a moment from running away.

Eudora Welty (1909-2001)


Today I listened as my computer chugged and ground its way through the start-up process. The computer is dangerously close to carking it, mostly (I suspect) due to the thousands of photos clogging up the memory.

img_57561.jpgIt made me think about the purpose of all those digital photos. Why do I take so many? Why do I save so many?

Many, many moons ago, when I was at university, I spent three months in the United Kingdom on an extended holiday. I have a thick photo album from that time – one of those albums that are terrible for the archival quality of the photos, where you stick the photos to the pages and then smooth the clear plastic back over them. It contains around 250 photos and I often get it out and flick through the pages.

A single photo of two of my friends in a pub in Oxford reminds me of the day we all met up there from our various, separate travels. Three photos of Stonehenge prompt memories of the day I spent there with my Aunt and Uncle, and how it was the winter solstice (one of the only days of the year you were allowed to go right into the stones).

With film, developing and printing a considerable cost to a university student, I picked my photo subjects wisely. I’d take one shot of Big Ben, then put the camera away until I reached the next landmark or sight I wanted to remember.

Like the photos I’m taking now, these shots were not great works of art. However, those 250 photos, taken over a three month period, captured enough of the experience to lock it into my memory, ready to be triggered years later when I browse through the album.

Nowadays, I can return from a three-week holiday with over 3,000 photos. A birthday party could add 200-300 to the archive. An inter-school sports event is probably good for at least 30 or 40. Digital camera technology has made it too easy to photograph every place, every occasion, every person from every angle imaginable. Cameras, whether ‘traditional’ standalone devices, or the one built into the phone, barely leave my hands when traveling, and are always on hand in day to day life, ready to snap off a few shots when the occasion requires it.

But do these snapshots ‘stop the moment running away’? Or are the moments running away before I even realise they are there, as I’m too focused on the digital screen? Sometimes I think we need to remind ourselves to and enjoy the moment before it disappears.

Is life what happens when you’re not looking through a viewfinder?

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