Living life behind a lens

(watching the fireworks with my baby Winking smile confession: I did take several photos too...)
My friend Dawn just posted this blog, with reference to this article and as a “camera constant companion” type person, it is a topic that I have pondered quite a lot over the years. So instead of writing an epic response on her wall I thought I’d write my thoughts over here.
(Incidentally, I have a brother who is quite the opposite of me, he hates to use a camera because he is so concerned about missing out on "real life").  Is there a happy balance? Probably. I know I don’t represent a “balance” but for me it is happy and here is my perspective for what it is worth. 
There are several major reasons why I live a lot of my life behind the lens:
1.)I take so many pictures mostly because I feel a great sadness and loss that I have no family to witness my children growing up in person. I compensate by documenting as much I can to share with them.  I am certain that it fills a psychological void for me more than it does for them, but it is what it is and it is of some small comfort.
2.)I feel a sense of responsibility. I have been the designated photographer since I was a child. It was a self appointed role. Nobody required it of me but ever since I was very young (long before social networking), I have been fascinated by the art of photography and have been an avid journal keeper.  I took it upon myself to photograph our special occasions because my parents definitely did not seem to feel the same need as I did to capture occasions. And so, there I was, at 10 years old taking blurry shots of the family with my instamatic.(Ironically my dad was/is a very talented photographer and had an excellent camera, and while we have some beautiful candid photos that he has taken, I don’t remember it being a great presence during family occasions or every-day life). I have relatively few pictures of my childhood (and only a couple in my possession).
I have no pictures of  some of my family members who have passed away, I have very few pictures of my siblings growing up, and I have no pictures of my parents as children or young adults. This especially bothers me terribly. I would love to see what my parents looked like as kids, what type of things they did and wore. I would find it endlessly fascinating.
I would like to be able to compare myself or my parents or siblings as babies to my own children. I would so value that sense of history and since I don’t have it, I think I over-compensate. I even feel a sense of responsibility to capture events for friends who don't often take pictures.  I have been known offer to take and email pictures to random strangers who seem to be having a photo worthy moment without a photographer.  At most social events I have become the designated picture taker, sometimes I admit that I wasn’t, but it’s never a great burden.  If I really don’t feel like taking photos at an event I leave my camera at home so that I won’t feel the compulsion, but in my mind, that is my contribution to the party, just as some bring the awesome food or always end up doing the dishes, and I have yet to have a friend complain because I captured a cute moment of their child.
4.) I  "hoard" memories in the form of photos and blogging because past experience has shown me that I enjoy events almost as much (and sometimes maybe more-when sleep deprivation and over stimulation is absent) when I re-live them through my blog or my photos. They truly are sunshine on a cloudy day for me (and sometimes they feel like totally new events as I have that little memory of them).  I am constantly stunned at how very little I would remember of my kids' childhood if it weren't for my pictures and blog posts. Again, I know I would treasure such a record of my childhood with my siblings, and I hope my children will feel the same way one day. Regardless, I know I will.
And so living life through the lens, while it may have some minor drawbacks, is completely worth it to me.  I'd like to think that I'm not particularly driven by the more narcissistic aspects discussed in the article. I use social networking to connect with others and I love doing that. Of course I like positive feedback just like anyone else does, but that is not why I take photos and blog.  Other than from my family, I don't expect feedback, positive or otherwise.  I don't post photos or blog in order to see 'likes' or comments. More often than not, I do not get feedback of any kind. In fact, until very recently when Blogger started posting reader stats right up on my dashboard, I never bothered to read my stats. The active feedback I got led me to believe that I had only a handful of readers at most. Yet I continued to blog regularly.
Another practical aspect of posting regularly on various social media sites? Well first of all it is fun, (I love checking my instagram feed, it is so much fun to see snapshots of people’s day all over the world, what can I say? I’m a voyeur!) and mostly, I feel greatly reassured having my photos/random thoughts/spur of the moment anecdotes saved in various online spots, should my memory/computer/external hard-drive fail me.
Finally, for the most part I genuinely believe that I do enjoy events just as much when I photograph them. As amateurish a photographer and writer as I am (and I am painfully aware that I am a complete amateur in both areas), it is an art form for me, a creative outlet. Photographing life makes me really look at what I am experiencing, to interact with my environment rather than to just passively observe(or see right through) it, to focus on the way a child moves, or the way the evening light shines through the petals of a flower, to really watch the expressions of my children’s faces as they talk to each other. To watch the way my husband’s mouth moves as he tries to persuade my baby to eat her food.  I think it is the perfect way to combine active motherhood with creativity.  I can’t speak for other “memory hoarders”, but I feel things and enjoy them more when I photograph them. I actually find it makes me even more present and sensitive to my surroundings. (**An aside: I don’t feel the same way about videoing events by the way,  to me, videoing things is just watching them through a filter.  Maybe if I were a filmmaker and it was an art I would feel differently, but I do agree that for me at least, much is lost through videoing which is why I only take little snippets of video).
Maybe one day my children will talk about how much they hated having a mom with a huge camera documenting their every move. (Probably one day my children will talk about how much they hated having a mom with a huge camera documenting their every move) but there is no denying that they already love looking at my photos and reading my blog. I’m hoping that with advancing age and memory loss, their appreciation will increase and any irritation they experienced will be forgotten.  And if that is the greatest complaint they have about my mothering, I think I can die a happy (and successful) mom.
What is your take on this topic?

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DianeSS said...

I too love taking photographs! For me they are a way to extend the enjoyment of special moments, to document everyday life and they definitely help me to remember the details I would probably otherwise forget. I am sure your children will treasure all the photographs you take of them, as will their children. What a wonderful gift!

Kallie said...

I completely agree -- with everything you said. my only addition is that i secretly wish someone would actually pick up the camera and take a picture of me with my kids or my husband or whatever -- without me asking them to -- so someday my kids could see candid interactions between them and their mother. (this desire BECAUSE I wish now that I am a mother, that I could see pictures of my own mom when she was my age. -- there are just accidental partial laps here and there - and it thrills me so much to see her bell bottoms that I can't imagine how excited I'd be to actually see full body shots of her.)

Anonymous said...

Well, I am eternally grateful that we have a photographer with as much commitment as you have. I am sure that the off-spring will feel the same way. But, a word of comfort. There are more photos than you realise. You don't have many of your siblings, because each kid got his/her box of photos. Necessary when they grow up and leave home! I suppose the techno development will make it much easier when yours are at that stage. Thanks for being behind the lens.