The fireworks go up and the cameras come out. The sky is being filled with noise and colour but most of the people around me are content to experience the show through the screens on their phones or cameras. I’m partially baffled by this. It’s not incomprehensible to me because I like taking photos, yet I also know that the technology being used isn’t adequate to capture what’s happening in any way that is meaningful other than as proof that “I was there.” Probably that’s the point: these are photos to be shared online so that friends and family elsewhere can know where we were.
Without wishing to get too deep, however, are we really there? I often think about this when taking photos at events, and am reminded of a glorious Cornish summer evening several years ago. A group of us were staying in a cottage on the far west coast and were given a display of colour and beauty that would put the best fireworks to shame as the sun set fire to the sky. I’ll prove to you that I was there: I took the photo below. There are many, many more.
Here’s the problem: my memories from that evening consist entirely of me taking photos and talking about taking photos. I can’t actually remember the experience of being under the sky when it looked like that. I barely remember being with my good friends who shared it with me. Aside from the digital record, the event itself is lost to me! In a way, doesn’t that make being there pointless? Does saying “Look what I saw” really mean anything if I can’t remember seeing it?
This may just be a problem for those who try to go a bit further than the automatic settings on more-complicated-than-average cameras. I’m still learning, I don’t have the speed and ease of competence, so a lot of my attention is taken up with figuring out which lens I should be using and which exposure setting, what aperture means again, and where the button to change it is. Perhaps people who just point and shoot aren’t distracted by such things and therefore get the best of both worlds: a genuine memory, and evidence of it.
The photo at the top of this post aside, I didn’t try to snap the fireworks. My sense of place was still at risk though. Deb, with her annoying/gratifying comprehension of me said during the display, “You’re thinking about how to write about this, aren’t you?”