Can a camera truly capture a moment?
For all that technology can do, there are some limitations to what it can actually record. Sometimes it is better to simply live our moments than being concerned with whether we have recorded them for posterity (or Facebook). Capturing our life digitally requires that we actually stop living in the moment and take control of how we want others to see our lives, in this way a camera is a duplicitous chronicler.
A camera obliterates spontaneity. Think of a special moment in your life, one in which you authentically felt something so powerful that you reacted to the impulse of that moment; with a passionate kiss, a warm hug, a belly laugh, a silly face… and then someone schlepps out a camera and insists that you re-pose and re-create your kiss, hug, laugh or face. In that re-positioning, your hair gets swept out of your face, instead of keeping it where it was to tickle the other person’s face, as it did in the first moment. The hug becomes mechanical as you are aware that you may look fatter from this angle and you work on arranging yourself and sucking in your gut. The laughter is stilted because you don’t want your mouth open as wide as it was, showing all the world that you still have your tonsils. The silly face is not funny when it gets tagged on Facebook with a scathing caption. The camera has not really captured the moment, because it has past. We can’t re-live moments, at least not genuinely. We only get to do them once, and unless you live in the Big Brother house, it is rare that you will have your every move recorded by a camera instantly as you live out each of the moments of your life.
Cameras also frame a moment, which means they purposely leave something out. In setting up a shot, the photographer decides where to focus. The photographer becomes the instant editor of that moment, deleting scenery, people, minutia of that moment that the photographer deems unnecessary. The taking of digital photos further has us select and reject moments– deleting ones that we consider unflattering or unnecessary. We then choose the best of those moments to make a part of our profile page or photo album, further selecting how we want the moments of our lives to appear. We dismiss and reject photos, likely ones that as closely as possible, have captured the true ugliness of some of the moments of our lives. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “No subject is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.”
The moments of our lives are laden with the burden of our feelings and we don’t show them all in our facial expressions. We have a way with tinkering with the honesty of what is recorded in a photo. Perhaps in a strained smile, or an affected hug. You might be standing next to someone you might not otherwise choose to stand with, had the person orchestrating the photo not insist you move a little closer together. I can think of a photo of myself in which I look very happy, but I know I wasn’t. I know what I had to stuff down deep, what feelings I betrayed to appear cheerful, that it pains me to look at it.
Despite all of this, we do choose to record slices of our lives in photographs. We do the selecting: who and where and how. And then we take pains to find ways to share them with others. In this way we let people in to our lives, no matter how fractured the snapshots might be, that perhaps others might begin to understand as best they can what it is we want them to see of ourselves. Every once in a while, they might just see who we really are.