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    The Digital Eye

    August 2, 2006 by Brandy Vencel

    Everyone has a digital camera nowadays. I was quite the holdout. I liked my film and that little clicking sound, thank you very much. And I was convinced that digital photos wouldn’t last like film developed in a darkroom. But as the technology improved, I could see the benefits, and Si convinced me that it was time. We used our Christmas money to buy a digital camera.

    I like it. I have replaced taking the children to a professional photographer with having numerous photo shoots at home. Si has a pretty good eye for photos, and since we can simply press “delete” if we dislike a photo, the process works pretty well.

    Digital cameras have a wasteful sort of mood with them because of the delete feature. Remember the days of film? Film was expensive, and so was development. And one never knew if the photos were going to turn out. One did not photograph everything, but rather only one’s favorite things, and even that was done with a certain amount of care. Digital cameras have changed this. One can be truly excessive and careless with one’s photo-taking because of that wonderful “delete” function.

    I have felt harassed by cameras before, to be honest. Especially at birthday parties. I want to sit and take it all in. I want to remember not just what the event looked like, but also what it smelled like, tasted like, sounded like. I wanted to be there. Other people wanted to take a lot of photos, which I felt ruined some of the fun, what with people having to stop and pretend to have fun while someone took a photo.

    There are a lot of cameras at a place like the zoo. Did I mention everyone has a digital camera these days. It’s true.

    It was interesting to see how the new technology effects how people see things, or don’t see things, which rather seems to be the case. A photo is not the same as an actual memory. A photo is more like a prompt. It reminds the viewer to remember something. But at the zoo, I saw people substitute snapping a photo for really seeing. I would not be surprised if those people went home and discovered they took photos of animals they had already forgotten seeing.

    I confess freely that we took many photos at the zoo {and Sea World, and Wild Animal Park}. We took good ones, which I have promised to share, I know. We want to build a book of animals and their names for our son to practice his reading skills on. But early on, we noticed the effect of photography on the act of storing a memory, and tried to be deliberate about seeing things.

    Cell phones have a similar effect. While we were driving this weekend, Si had to speak briefly with a client. He was driving, but didn’t remember changing freeways or merging because he had been on the phone. The technology separates mind from body, and the mind is not fully present in the body’s location.

    I have seen the camera do this. I mentioned before that we saw children being rushed through various exhibits, and assured that the parents had taken a photo for them to look at later. Really, they should have saved their money and purchased a really good picture book. One does not go to a zoo to take a picture of an animal. One goes to see the animals.

    It is not that I think humanity should throw out all the cameras, but I also don’t think that one should swallow technology whole without examining some of the effects. Digital photography, after all, has only exaggerated a problem that was already present with the film camera.

    The challenge, then, is to really see. A photo should never replace a memory. If one is deliberate with photography, taking photos with the intent to capture beauty and/or spark a memory, one should find they begin to remember things better in the first place. A memory is built by taking the time to see the big picture along with the details. A photo captures a small facet of the whole effect, and usually does so without context.

    Later on, I will add a photo of a monkey jumping through the air that Si took at the zoo. The photo will not tell the viewer that it was hot, or that there were actually three monkeys, chasing each other up and down trees. It will not reveal what time of day it was or what a delight it was for us to stand for a while and watch the monkeys play. It will just show a monkey, flying through the air. But because I really saw, I can take the photo and remember and tell my kids all about what happened. And in telling them, I will pass on a memory to go with the photo.


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  • Reply Brandy August 3, 2006 at 8:26 pm

    So true Nicole! It is like the parents are creating a mythical childhood without understanding what it takes to create a real one, and the photos make it all possible.

  • Reply Nicole August 3, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    Hmm. And I wonder how many of those photos will end up in a album or scrapbook to prove to the kids that they had a great childhood. Might be nice pictures, but no real meaningfulness…

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