Taking Pictures

NAVA BRAHE: I’m not a picture person. I’ve never been one of those people who always has a camera with her, or albums of photos strewn about my house. Actually, all my pictures are in boxes right now, and that’s fine with me. Maybe that’s because I used to see so many stereotypical tourists in Manhattan wearing socks and sandals, with 35mm cameras hanging around their necks. Or, maybe its because my parents weren’t camera people. Don’t get me wrong, there were always plenty of pictures around, but my mom and dad were never jostling for position with the Kodak Instamatic at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and other events. Therefore, neither am I.

People with cameras and video cameras used to annoy me. Just when I thought I was over that annoyance, cell phones with on-board cameras hit the market and that annoyance was resurrected. Now, it’s hard to go anywhere without getting snapped by an unsolicited Scavullo. On the other hand, a lot of dubious behavior has been documented, like sleeping token booth clerks, bus drivers texting-while-driving, and so on. Today, a camera is a technological double-edged sword; you can capture memories without weighing down your purse with a separate photographic device, or you can preserve a horrifying misstep for time immemorial; and share it with the rest of your friends. Not to mention the rest of the world. I’ll be the first to admit – I’m guilty of that transgression. A simple “friending” of me on Facebook will reveal an unusually large collection of pictures of my cat, plus some other photographic gems taken with my cell phone camera. What can I say? I’m becoming a sucker for technology.

I don’t consider myself the most photogenic of individuals, which is most likely the reason for my camera-shyness. On the other hand, I do love a good photographic exhibit just as much as I love to stare at paintings looking for every nuance I can uncover. I admire photography, but I’ll never be a photographer. Just as I’ll never be a painter or anything other than a writer. Pictures, like words, tell a story; not everyone can write, and not everyone is capable of taking great photographs. For now, I’m sticking to what I know – unless I happen to nail someone doing something really stupid. Then it’s off to viral videotown for me!

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: I’ve found myself becoming concerned in recent years about the dearth of actual printed paper photographs. It seems as though in a world where we are increasingly living our lives online, our photos are now stuck there too. As there is almost never a situation in which there isn’t a screen handy on which to pull up a picture you wish to show someone—either on a phone, a laptop or an iPad—hard copies of photographs are becoming few and far between.

What does this mean? Maybe nothing. After all, there’s no need to catalogue your photos in large unwieldy books since you can scroll and click through them instead. So why bother having paper photos?

But I miss a lot that went with the paper photos. It gave pictures more of a sense of permanence. I have family photos that are decades old; eighty years from now, is anyone going to come across .jpg files of me in college while cleaning the attic?

I remember getting doubles when I ordered prints so I could send copies to my friends. Now I can email a photo to everyone I know in seconds without breaking a sweat. I know that’s a great leap forward, but why does it feel like a hollow victory?

Even the fact that you can see pictures right away when you take them bothers me a little. Our culture is very interested in instant gratification. I can remember when you used to take a picture and hope that it turned out—but you weren’t going to get to see it for days, possibly weeks, since you had to use the whole roll of film first, and then send it off to be developed. There’s a small part of me that really dislikes that eager look people get on their faces right after you snap a picture of them with a digital camera. You know the look I mean—the one that comes as they reach for the camera to look at the picture you just took. “Let me see it,” they say, almost greedily. And it makes me wish they had to wait for something, just this once.

AKIE BERMISS: I say good riddance to paper photos.  I’ve always been an atrocious photographer.  Maybe its because I’ve been near-sighted since the age of 8, or maybe its because the “blue-green” and “green-blue” crayons always looked exactly the same to me.  Or maybe, its because I have no innate understanding of space and three-dimensional composition.  I’m not sure.  But I can tell you this, I don’t mind that we’re starting to become a society of camera happy fools.  Now everyone can take 400 pictures of anything and have all of them suck and have everyone else tell them how great they think the pictures in order to avoid insulting them.  It works out really well for me: I pick up my iPhone, snap a picture, and if its halfway decent, in focus, and level — I’m already one of the best amateur photographers going.

Don’t get me wrong — if you like civilization you should probably disagree with me.  I like this in the way that an illiterate person would like it if everyone started watching television instead of reading.  This makes me look good.  Sadly, if makes our civilization look pretty bad.  Do people ever stop to think?  Why am I taking a picture of this?  Why, just because there IS space on my memory card, must I fill it all up with meaningless pictures in double and in triplicate?  Why do I feel like its alright to leave the house late because I was trying to find the right angle for another really sweet picture of my cats sleeping together on pillow?  These photos are so vapid, so shallow and unimportant, and so pointless, that they can’t really be called memory.  Why remember that your cat is really cute… again… on film?!  No, these pictures mark no special occasions, they are simply stills of the boring minutae of every day life (just as Twitter is a collection of meaningless word-sketches of every passing moment’s happening).  If, indeed, we are to be special: we should do better.

In the end, amateur photos are not about composition or craft or beauty.  They are about remembering good things, good times, and good people.  They are often imperfect and that gives them a great deal of character.  And more meaning perhaps.  I can’t tell sea-foam from “light” green — but I can tell you what life was like growing up as ME.  And when I see the right picture, I am thrown back into that experience.  And it is made new.

I used to bring home a sack full of photos from summer camp each year.  Rolls and rolls of film.  And usually: not a single one was worth keeping.  And I kept them all.


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