Photography is about capturing a moment. At least that’s the intent. But it doesn’t always work that way.
I was taught, using an SLR, to look through the lens of the camera but also to keep the other eye open on the world to be aware of what is happening around you. Keep your perspective open and alert in case something changes or there is a bigger picture you need to get.
Often in the act of taking a picture we close one eye and see only what is happening thorough the lens of our camera. And it’s not really different as most pictures are now taken with cell phones. We hold them up and see the world on our screens. However we take the picture, we can get so focused on the details of getting the picture right that we miss what is actually happening.
Years ago, when my young bride and I attended a music festival I set out to get a picture of a favourite artist, Rich Mullins.
Rich came onstage to sing and I started the long trek to the stage front. Took some time, lots of “excuse me’s” and careful maneuvering. But I got there. I positioned myself, locked my arm for a firm stance and snapped a pic. Not a great pic. But a picture of someone whose music we really enjoyed. Then I fought my way back through the crowds to my bride’s side.
“I got it!” (such a sense of accomplishment)
Bonnie was pleased. I was pleased. Then she talked about the songs and how good it was to hear them in person.
I realized that I was so intent on getting there and getting a good picture and then getting back that I effectively missed the performance. I heard the music but it was background to the other things I was attentive to. I wasn’t present to the songs — the songs that meant so much to me.
Getting distracted or being inattentive is the opposite of being present. We miss what is actually happening as something else gets our focus.
I think the recent emphasis on selfies has taken our attention, our presence out of daily life much of the time. Instead of actually taking in the surroundings and the interesting or beautiful things around us. People whip up their cell phone, pose (often in the same way every time) snap off a picture and walk away.
Standing in front of the grandeur of the Grand Canyon a couple of years ago, I was amazed. I had to just look and look and look. There was so much to see. It took time to take it all in. Each turn of eyes brought new wonder. So beautiful, huge, deep, colourful, rugged! I can’t even describe it properly. I took a few pictures and they don’t capture it. I don’t think you can.
But I remember how it made me feel. I was overcome with awe. At my first look, I just had to speak words, as insufficient as they were, to tell God how amazing He was and how wondrous His creation!
And at the same time people would come to the viewing point.
Take a quick look.
Turn their back to it.
Whip up their phone for a selfie.
Then walk away.
“But hey, wait! I think you missed it, you didn’t… um, did you see the…? ”
How could they miss this wonder? How could they just glance at it and walk on to the next spot!?
But then I realized that I’ve done the same thing. I get so focused on getting places or doing things that I miss the beauty around me. The wonder of the people and their diversity (they really are wonderful creations) gets missed. The way life flows, the relationships, the dynamics, the natural world and it’s colours, textures, sounds and smells are all so surprising if I’ll just take time.
And I take selfies too. Captures me and the ones I’m with and that’s good. It’s a reminder of being there. But I need to see what’s there. The ‘there’ is what we drove or flew or hiked so far to see. And then if I’m able I’ll record part of the wonders around me with a picture.
The ‘there’ is what we drove or flew or hiked so far to see.
To be present takes time and attention. And if I don’t give that then it’s like the music I didn’t hear at the festival. I’ve missed it and it’s not coming back.