Lately I’ve read and listened to a number of articles and conversations that argue over taking photos versus being in the moment when in some beautiful, exotic location; as in: you can’t versus you can, truly enjoy a place when you’re always looking at the world through a little screen; with people on both sides arguing they are the happier bunch. I never read or listen to the end so, you know, whatever.
But hey, having gone from making photographs for decades to making none to speak of for close to a year and a half, and having recently visited one of the most picturesque places in Australia for the first time and sans-camera, allow me to explain the differences in experience between visiting a beautiful location with a camera and taking loads of photos, and visiting a beautiful location with no camera and, you know, taking no photos. Especially as it pertains to my level of happiness (which is as good a measuring stick as any in this sort of argument).
So here it is, the difference in my happiness levels when I’m in a wonderful location without a camera versus with a camera is… well, none. Either way, I can’t say I felt any difference. There’s no regretting not taking a camera and there’s no feelings of being more in the moment one way or the other.
So there you have it. A totally unscientific, totally useless opinion which helps nobody, much like those articles and conversations I mentioned at the start.
Anyway, in anticipation of some questions people may have here are some rather vague and most likely, useless, answers:
No, I didn’t miss having a camera. Well, technically I had my phone (my 16yo daughter was in France and I needed to be available) but a few months ago I downgraded to the cheapest phone I could find and I am not sure that the photo-making apparatus that it comes with actually passes off as a camera. It’s okay for selfies I guess. In really good light. With minimal contrast. When all the planets align. A couple such photos did make it to Instagram or FB Messenger for my daughter, and for my son who was at home, but the taking of these snaps is not what I would consider picture making.
No, I doubt I’ll regret not having any photos of my trip. I always think of holiday photos as being for other people to look at since I don’t look at them myself. Though my wife – who wasn’t too happy about me not taking the usual holiday snaps – decided to take on that responsibility and used her own, very capable phone and did a fine job of it. On a side note, one thing I realised (and this may sound far too cynical for some), is that in this day and age with millions of people sharing photos, all I would need to do if I really wanted to see some snaps is do a search. In fact, the photos in the link above are pretty much what I saw.
Yes, there were a few times where I saw something which resonated on some level beyond pure aesthetic beauty which I would have captured had I had a camera. In fact, I saw waves of amazing metaphysical beauty, 4-5 metres high, perfect clarity and colour, with massive spray whipped by an offshore wind that truly made them look like horses with white manes galloping across azure fields. And every now and then, the sun would catch that spray creating mini rainbows, turning those spectral horses into My Little Ponies®. Totally surreal. So yes I would have made a number of photographs of these waves but frankly, it suffices that I got to see it. It’s now a memory in my DNA which will only get better with age; the way good memories tend to do. Not having a digital copy of it is neither here nor there for me.
Yes, there was a palpable feeling of immersion with my surroundings that came from walking around without a camera, which in itself, was significantly different to the feeling of concentration I experience when trying to capture a scene with a camera. This one is difficult to explain but the difference, while tangible, is just that: a difference. I find neither situation to be better than the other if we’re talking about enjoyment or contentment.
I don’t know what any of this means in terms of my future photo making. I still don’t have any strong urges to take photos, much less to go shopping for a camera. Over the decades I’ve been driven to take photos for many reasons. When I started this blog in 2009, I had decided to explore the creative process a little deeper, specifically with regards to the relationship between creativity and consciousness. In the past six and half years and 350 posts later, how I’ve used a camera and how I’ve made photographs has changed numerous times. The way I perceive the world has also changed. This exploration, within the context of art and more specifically, photography, has taken me to all sorts of philosophical and metaphysical mindscapes which are, by their very nature, endless; so I could be looking for a camera again some day.
For now, not having a camera doesn’t make me feel overly different from when I took a camera with me everywhere I went. All I know is that when I’m in some picture-worthy situation, it’s not about what I have or where I’m at or what I’m doing or not doing which determines happiness. It’s whatever enables the story of ‘me’ to drop away in the sheer bliss of the moment and whatever that might be, whatever allows ‘me’ to fade away, it is always far more satisfying than any concepts or ideas. With ‘me’ out of the way all that is left is feeling, tasting, seeing. Most of all, it’s being; being with no attachment to ‘me’. It is raw pleasure where there is just what’s happening, without ‘me’. That, I suppose, is how I might describe happiness. Happiness comes in the absence of ‘me’ and in the presence of nothing. And everything.
Ok, so that probably made no sense. Words tend to get in the way. What I’m trying to say is: Take ‘me’ out of the picture and who is left to worry about things like an SD card full of shots or an SD card sitting on a shelf back home? Or, in other words, what’s wrong with right now if I’m not thinking about it?
Anyway, enough of that. For now I will leave you with the image above. Digitally created, mixing a bit of an old photo with some “drawn” elements, it is what I find myself creating these days, in lieue of photographs. In case you can’t tell, it’s of a sunrise over a city at the edge of a desert. I made it as a virtual photographer standing in an imaginary desert, looking east, totally lost in the imaginary grandness of it all and just being.