To Be or To Document

One of the things I struggle with when doing this blog or when doing life in general is when to just experience the moment and when to document it. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen something that intrigued me and thought a minute afterwards “I should have taken a picture.” Had I actually taken the picture I might have missed the moment.  Perhaps the Kodak moment is inferior to the moment  of the mind.

Should I be selfish and enjoy the experience in all its spontaneity and freshness or should I stare through a view finder to bring it home?

A few months ago I was in Rotorua, New Zealand attending a Maori cultural ceremony. Members of a local Maori tribe were performing songs and dances. Mostly all I could see were cell phones and tablets held up so that the people in the ten rows between the stage and us could record the moment for re-viewing. Were they even experiencing it in the first place, in the moment that it was happening?

I think of so many moments that are pictures and movies in my head, perhaps to be lost someday to senility or some other impairment. Like the time President Reagan, rolled  by my sister, my wife, and me, in his limo, interior lights illuminated. He spotted my sister, her first time in DC, waving like an imbecile as we stood alone on the curb of Constitution Avenue only a few blocks from the White House. Reagan, forever the showman, looked our way, pointed at my sister, gave an ear to ear smile, and waved to her. There are no pictures or videos of this moment in time but it was a bona fide OMeffingG moment.

I think of running my first marathon in 1981. The wind blowing off Rhode Island sound as we made our way on Ocean Drive in Newport. It was November and I was a poor grad student running in a cotton t-shirt and shorts. I can close my eyes and smell the salt air. I can feel the chill of the ocean breeze as I ducked behind other runners for shelter. The voice of the old track coach on the side of the road “Keep it smooth. You look great.” The crashing of the waves. The subtle crown of the asphalt road that would cause me so much leg pain in the weeks after. I have this movie in my head 34 years later. So much better than seeing it on the screen. Like yesterday. The pictures are still fresh, not faded with the passage of time.

Riding on the Erie Canal towpath in 2004. The packet boats gliding by in the morning fog. People on the boats saying “Good morning” as I pedaled by at a lazy 10 miles per hour. The crunch of my tires on the unpaved path.  The serene quiet.

We didn’t take a video when my wife repeated the words “I love you” in a high pitched voice to our infant son. Impossibly, long before he would learn to talk in his own right, responded in a sing-song voice of his own: “I wuv you.”

Are we too obsessed with getting everything for our digital devices?

I am reminded of my oldest brother, a magnificently skilled photographer. He once told me that out of the hundreds of pictures he takes only a handful are “good.” How many good moments did he miss altogether in his quest for a satisfactory picture?

Without a doubt the very best moments of my life in 2015 were not photographed. The essence of these moments were not visible anyway. They happened in my head and in my heart. In my consciousness.



2 thoughts on “To Be or To Document

  1. I agree, well said.

    There’s this great photographer who blogs his bike camping trips — — and he was asked about dragging his camera equipment along all the time. He said he doesn’t do that. He brings his camera about every 3rd trip. He wanted to ensure that, most of time, he was really experiencing things rather than documenting.

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