I don’t often write about my job in much detail here, but I had a moment recently that struck me, both as a photographer and as a mother. I was at a wedding, waiting for the bridesmaids to make their walk down the aisle when the mother of the bride pulled out her point and shoot and leaned far into the aisle, she then turned back to me and whispered kindly, Oh, don’t worry, I won’t get in your way!
Recently, on forums and among other photographers, even in the New York Times, there has been a discussion of why we ought to move toward phone-free weddings. The photographer in me, who just wants a nice shot of a bride and grooms first kiss without having to work around outstretched arms holding cell phones, or a relative squatting down in the aisle with their point-and-shoot camera, just as they lean in, oh she rejoices at the thought.
Moments when a bride and groom are exchanging vows, rather than putting our hands on our hearts and being in the sweet, gentle moment, we are more and more so becoming a culture of capturing, bent on the idea that in order to remember something, we need to have it forever, on our phones or our hard drives or our Facebook timelines.
And, from my perspective, standing in the back, watching it all, paid to be there to capture the scene as it unfolds (so that the guests might just enjoy being a participant in the event) this is often how a sacred moment looks.
But the truth is, I am just as guilty as the people I am writing about. And, the reality check for me, was that at the recent wedding, I wasn’t worried about the mother of the bride at the ceremony getting in my way. I was worried about her getting in her OWN way.
I am worried about myself, getting in MY own way.
How often do I see my children in a sweet moment and immediately ditch them to go and grab my gear? Must. Capture. This. Cuteness.
How will I ever remember this beautiful child, this adorable moment of sibling love, this particular silly face?
And then, I remember my own wedding, coming up on eleven years ago now. I rarely look at my wedding pictures (but that is a whole other story.) Yet, I somehow remember it all, so clearly and wonderfully.
I remember the feeling of walking on the soft grass. I remember the smiles of my family and friends, turned back to watch me walk down the aisle. I remember the feeling of my bare arm, hooked around the starchy elbow of my father’s tuxedo jacket. I remember thinking and breathing and smiling at my groom. I remember how no one else could really hear our vows, spoken without microphones, but how I told Vinnie that he was my best friend and confidant, my soul mate for life. And I remember seeing parents and grandparents, sisters and relatives, all with tears. They were there, with us.
I don’t remember everything and not everything I remember is exact, but what I do remember feels more real than the things that I remember now, in my life behind a lens.
You see, behind a lens, I am composing. I am mechanical. I am making adjustments and shifting my feet, I am asking my kids to scoot just a wee bit closer to the window (but, please, just keep playing, pretend I’m not here, ignore this camera, this phone, this mother hovering over you in her pjs and on on tip toes.) I am watching how the light falls on my child’s face, rather than watching my child.
But the moment, by this point, has already passed, and I am left with what looks like a pretty good representation of what was happening, you know before I interrupted it all in my full-on if it’s not on my hard drive, it won’t be remembered mode.
And truthfully, when I am thinking to the sweet, gentle moments with my children, they are rarely the moments that I have bothered to capture, or even been able to capture – they are the moments I’ve lived fully with them.
Alex, at six months, in our little two bedroom condo. It was July and he was teething and we were both so, so, hot, but I held him in my arms and bounced him up and down, up and down. I quietly sang over his sweaty head. I sang Jingle Bells, in the damp heat of a summer’s night. And I remember feeling the tips of his toes hitting my legs as we bounced and thinking, how impossibly big he had grown. Where was my baby going? How could we have come so far so fast?
But, he has grown. We have come so far, and it feels like it’s only going to be getting faster.
And, lately, I am realizing that I don’t want to sacrifice authentic memories for digital ones. I want the soft-around-the-edges, but warm in my heart memories. The ones that can’t quickly be saved with the click of a camera, but the ones that last longer and can be recalled by my heart whenever there is an ache in my soul for something that can’t be filled by things at all, even perfectly composed, well-lit photographs.