Be careful what you snap
Driving to work one morning, I heard the radio presenter say something funny. I laughed at it at first, but it started to bug me soon after. The presenter was cracking a joke at the photos that our generation takes and how those photos compare to the photos our grandparents have left for us to admire.
I remember looking through an old tin filled with sepia-toned photos of my grandparents in their younger years. The photos ranged from them in front of their first home to their wedding day, and my naked one-year-old dad playing in a bucket of water in the front yard.
Each of the pictures in that tin that smelled of mothballs and dust was taken by an observer with the desire to capture their precious memories forever. They snapped a proud photo of Table Mountain the first time they went to Cape Town (a notable adventure for the Vaalies). I can imagine how they hoped that it was angled correctly, and if the fading daylight had played along.
They walked around with a spool of film for the entire December holiday and sent the spool to be developed once they were safely back home. They waited a few days and then fetched the little yellow envelope to finally find out how that precious photo had come out.
The photos that we take today are not done with as much effort or care. If the selfie that I just took is not exactly the way I like it, I can just delete it and take a hundred more until I am happy with every single aspect of it. I can view it immediately, edit it to my liking and send it here, there and everywhere in the blink of an eye.
Why, you may ask, should this bother you? When your future grandkids browse through your life in images on your cloud, Facebook page or Instagram in fifty years’ time, will they be filled with a sense of awe at the photos of your meals for the last month or the selfie you posted of your brows on fleek? Or will they want to look at images that tell the story of your life? Images that speak of your achievements, your greatest joy and your best adventures?
Now, I am not saying don’t take a photo of that glass of merlot that looks oh so great with the braai in the background. But I am saying that now is a good time to consider your photo legacy. I can guarantee you that the photos that made it into my gran’s old photo tin did not amount to every photo their camera ever took (#sendnudes).
Think about leaving future generations with an organised and curated collection of electronic photos that they would want to see. The good news about your life. The photos that tell the stories they would want to know about. In my life, it might include the time my husband and I got lost in Bangkok and took a very dodgy tuk-tuk or the moment that I held my nephew for the first time. American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange once said, “Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” If I am going to hold life still, it is going to be for the precious moments that my memories cannot be without, not for tonight’s couscous salad.