I am at one of my local eateries by the ocean two mornings ago, and I catch an elderly man gingerly lowering himself into one of the beach chairs on the sand. Before I could complete my thought, silently happy for him that he made it into that chair without breaking something, his daughter (I think) yells at him to turn his head back so she could get a good picture for her Facebook page and then they really need to go. I realize watching the old man straining to get back out of this low laying chair that I am staring now, so I avert my gaze to others enjoying the beach and spectacular scenery.
I look around to see girls posing for an iPhone in a “candid” shot as they pretend to be in a water fight, and immediately hop back onto the beach to continue the shoot. A mother telling her son to “do that again” this time she has her camera in hand to catch the moment that happened once already ten seconds prior. I think to myself, it’s a beach; of course there will be a lot of camera happy visitors and resume to my breakfast. I live in a “touristy” area now, and rationalize to myself that this is all a part of the package. But this thought lingers with me. I think back to my own childhood, and vacations we used to take to the beach. I remember sometimes posing for one or two family snaps and my mother would maybe take a couple more as we played. We would build gigantic turtles in the sand, taking six hours or more to complete (looking back, I think it was a clever way to keep us busy so my mother could relax and suntan), and when we were done, it never even crossed our minds to ask mom to get a photo of it. We all hopped back into the family car sacrificing our turtle back to the ocean, and it didn’t really phase us. I would like to think I was a pretty observant kid. As I search the far corners of my memories, I don’t remember seeing so many “photo shoots” happening on vacations as I saw that morning on the beach. I never posed much for pictures, unless we were at Sears for our portraits. I remember those because I was not the type of child who could stay still for that period of time, the artificial carpet seats smelt like chemicals, and I couldn’t wait for them to be over with.
Since Facebook came on the scene, taking pictures has risen to a whole new level. Photos used to be mementos, a way to remember the times in our lives. We would frame them, scrapbook them, or keep them in boxes ready and waiting for our next trip down memory lane. I can’t help but feel as I watched the fragile man in the beach chair struggle to appease his daughter that pictures are taking on a life of their own. It’s as if the picture is more important than enjoying the moment that the picture represents. Seconds after a photo is snapped we can upload it to Facebook to show all of our friends what we were lucky enough to experience five seconds ago. Don’t get me wrong, I also love uploading interesting things I see to social media sites to share with my friends and family. Living so far away from them I find it is a great way to stay connected and close. I am guilty of having 46 virtual photo albums, and significant Facebook worthy life events are always on the horizon.
Why does the old man stay in my thoughts? As I watched him struggle to get in and out of the chair, I realized that the real experience for him was to be in it. To feel the sun on his face and listen to the waves and the gulls that flew overhead. To inhale and exhale the saltwater air, and just be. Who knows if he would ever be able to come back here again? Although there is a picture to document him on the beach, it wasn’t really an accurate reflection of the moment.
Pictures are supposed to be reflections of our experiences. They are nothing more than a way to look back and smile at the times we have had. The key though, is to make sure the experiences we document are ones we took the time to enjoy, or the photos one day might be worth less to us than the paper they are printed on.