A Moment Worth Recording

“Photographs bear witness to a human choice being exercised in a given situation. A photograph is a result of the photographer’s decision that it is worth recording that this particular event or this particular object has been seen. If everything that existed were continually being photographed, every photograph would become meaningless. A photograph celebrates neither the event itself nor the faculty of sight in itself. A photograph is already a message about the event it records. The urgency of this message is not entirely dependent on the urgency of the event, but neither can it be entirely independent from it. At its simplest, the message, decoded, means I have decided that seeing this is worth recording.” From “Understanding a Photograph” by John Berger (2013).

I wonder if John Berger could have envisioned that someday we would all have cameras at our disposal, day and night, snapping away to capture whatever trivial moments we render “worth recording,” so long as our phone batteries had a charge. Would this constant capturing render our photographs meaningless?

Take yesterday, for example.

I walked a few blocks to the Terrace Restaurant. Saturday brunch, just like any other. The sun was shining through the restaurant’s street-side patio just so, which inspired me to reach into my purse for my iPhone. I just had to capture the way light reflected on the potted plant next to our table (it was real . . . I touched the leaves to verify).

Decidedly not fake!
I couldn’t let it slip me by, the way rays of sunshine spilled through the windowpanes and onto my glass of freshly-squeezed OJ.  
We wandered indoors soon afterwards, since there were bees swarming our table. The morning light cast long shadows onto the restaurant bar. Other than the restaurant staff, my husband and I were the only patrons sitting inside the restaurant. That, in itself, felt like something to hold onto in busy Brooklyn.
How odd that on this morning, even the restroom felt photographable. And so I did. Was this meaningless? John Berger might say so. To me, though, snapping pics helped me appreciate the moment while I was in it. I noticed the colors, the shapes, the silhouettes created by the interplay of shadows and light. Capturing it on my iPhone seemed to amplify the experience. Why not, I figured, preserve this moment for posterity’s sake?
“It’s not lost on me that I’m so busy recording life, I don’t have time to really live it,” writes David Sedaris in his essay “Day In, Day Out.” He adds, “Even if what I’m recording is of no consequence, I’ve got to put it down on paper.” Or store it in my smartphone image gallery. Meaningless or not, I enjoy looking back to see what I found photographable on a given day.

References

Berger, John. (2013). Understanding a photograph. New York, NY: Aperture.

Sedaris, David. (2013). Let’s explore diabetes with owls: Essays, etc. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

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