Monday, December 1, 2014

The Unphotographed Life: ThinkKit Day 1

First off, a quick explanation - I'm doing Smallbox's Think Kit month of blogging. Every day, they send a prompt, and we all blog on that topic. Unless we hate the topic, or we just don't feel like using it, and then we have backups to choose from. So I'll be posting something most every day this month. If you want to join in, you can sign up any time, its not exclusive in the slightest. Just sign up, blog away, and share what you've written with the world so we can see all the many ways people react to and interpret and branch out of the kernel of instructions we're given. Ok, ready? Go.

Today's prompt is:

A Thousand Words

Nothing like a strict word count to kick off our month of blogging...just kidding! Share your year in photos. Was there a moment of unrestrained happiness? An unexpected encounter? What role do photos play in your life – were you more selective with your phone ( this year? Or are you the King of Selfies? Dig into the deeper meaning of a moment frozen in time.

I've been thinking a lot about photos this year, about how we communicate nearly as much in pictures as in words these days. We share photos online of what we cooked for dinner, of our scenic vacations, anything we can think of. I do this too. I don't know if people want to see the bread I baked or my attempts at vegan cuisine, but I put it out there. We communicate in emojis (ok, my little sister just showed me how these work last month, so I am a little late to the party, and I don't really understand why a smiling turd icon exists). We have Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, to instantly share photos with the world, the text shunted off to tiny type below it. We text and email instead of speaking, so even when we use language, it's still more visual than verbal.

It makes me think of the Socrates quote "The unexamined life is not worth living." (And no, I don't typically quote Socrates. I had to google who the quote actually came from. For all I knew, it could have been from a Kylie Minogue song.) Maybe we should adapt that quote to life today by changing it to "the unphotographed life is not worth living". We examine our lives, and the lives of our friends, through images, constantly displaying the best (or at least the most photogenic) parts of them to the world.

It seems like everyone is photographing everything they do, all the time, so that they can share it with their friends on Facebook. But are we really in the moment when we're documenting it at the same time? I'm not criticizing - I really do wonder. I have friends who take selfies constantly, and they're always having a blast. But I haven't figured out how to take that photo without getting out of the moment. And god forbid someone catch me taking a photo of myself. I would melt down to the ground in embarrassment. Basically, I need to figure out how to be Solange so I can be effortlessly fabulous while sharing images of my elegant life with the world.

When I'm happiest, I don't usually think to pick up a camera. Later, I wish I had captured an image of the event, or the people I was with, or the amazing scenery that will now live only in my scattered brain. I try to memorize it, so that I can keep the memory forever, but it fades like all memories do in the end. But maybe that's all right. Maybe I need to embrace my inner Zen Buddhist and accept that the moment is in the moment and we never can really capture it. A photo is a representation, not the event itself, but it does anchor the memory. Looking back at an old photo, the scene springs back to life full force. But I'm not skilled at finding the balance between capturing the moment and experiencing it.

I can think of a few moments this year where I felt total happiness: hiking alone in the woods, the moments after finishing my first marathon and realizing I actually did it, getting the phone call that I was being offered the new job I was so excited about, hearing that same sex marriage was finally legal in Indiana. The only one of those I took a photo of was while hiking, and that photo could not capture the beautiful woods I walked through in any just way. And more than that, I've had many moments of happiness from the totally ordinary. This morning while driving my car and singing loudly along to one of the songs I'll play over and over again until I can't stand it anymore, a huge flock of birds flew overhead. As I watched they dove and did impressive acrobatic loops all in one huge group. I smiled, and for a few moments, I was totally happy. There's no picture to prove it, or to show the world, but I'll hold it in my head until I forget it, until the next perfect moment comes along.