This place matters

This place matters

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The persistence of memory

My last post was part one of a response to an NPR story I heard a few weeks ago and can't find a link to. Some condescending art historian was grumbling about people taking photographs of art in museums and how dumb a thing this is to do, because you should look at them instead. You've heard similar arguments, I'm sure, about how our culture is photo obsessed, how people take pictures of thing instead of just appreciating them, and what vanity it is to post blurry pictures of our mundane lives all over social media. 
In my last post, I talked about how viewing life through a camera lens has made me see so much more than I ever have before. To me, photography, in the words of Bob Dylan, "opens up a new door to show you something you seen before but overlooked a hundred times or more."
But what about the vanity bit? What about the selfie-obsessed culture and the social media overshares? Do scolds have a valid point there? I certainly don't think so.
My best friend and her husband recently made pretty much the most perfect child ever made. She confesses that her phone overfloweth with a million and one pictures of her child, and she sends me one of them nearly every day. Do I need a million and one pictures of that child? No. But every mundane photo she sends me is a microburst of joy in my day. 
Thing is, vanity and excess are in the eye of the beholder. I love that I get to see the mundane details of the lives of loved ones who are far away. I haven't really talked to my childhood best friend in years, but it makes me so happy to see that she has the big family she always talked about wanting when we were kids. If it weren't for my cousin posting tons of pictures of her baby, my mom might not have gotten to see the snapshot of the baby wrapped in the blanket she'd made his father. And last year's Christmas was that much nicer for the fact that I got to watch a video of my friend's kid in Atlanta opening the gift I'd sent him. 
And I know that looking at a friends' blurry picture of the Mona Lisa is nothing like seeing it in person, but it makes me really happy to know my friend got to go to the Louvre. Of course cherry blossoms are much more beautiful when you can see and touch and smell them, but they're also beautiful when a friend snaps a selfie of herself surrounded by them. And damn it, if my friend's really proud of the crepes she made for breakfast, I wanna see 'em. 
See, I think that taking too many pictures, sharing too many pictures, trying to photograph things that mean so much more in person, I think they let us share our lives with the people we love in ways we never could before. I think it's great that people can be separated by thousands of miles and still share the mundane intimacies of their lives with each other. I can spend Christmas morning with my immediate family, and my best friends' family, and my extended family, and I can do it practically in real time. That, my friends, is a Christmas miracle.  


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