Photography and ‘Living in the Moment’

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Last weekend I walked across Morecambe Bay with two friends. This is a wonderful experience. Morecambe Bay is renowned for being one of the most dangerous areas of quicksand in the world, but the walk is guided by the Queen’s Guide to the Sands, Cedric Robinson, MBE  and there is no risk as long as you follow his lead. The walk, about 7 miles from Arnside  across to Kents Bank, took us three and a half hours and involved walking through water channels up to our thighs. We then got the train back to Arnside to pick up our cars.

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I thought the walk was magical – the light on the sands was stunning and the atmosphere was wonderful – there must have been about 100 people doing the walk. Another friend described it as having the feeling of a pilgrimage.

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I took a lot of photos, which the friend I went with did not appreciate. She told me I was being ‘a pain’ and asked me why I couldn’t just ‘live in the moment’. She’s a good friend so can say these things and get away with it 🙂

Since then I have been thinking about what ‘living in the moment’ means. At the time I believed and felt I was truly in the moment. Does taking photos to record and ‘capture’ an event necessarily equate to not living in the moment?

A search online reveals that many people have asked this question. I have often said in the past that I like to take photos as a memory aid. Some researchers believe that photography actually impairs your memory rather than aids it and that, for example, people in an art gallery who stand and look at paintings rather than photograph them, remember them better. I have lived long enough to know that this is not the case for me. I love visiting art galleries and if it is allowed I always take photos, but I also stand and look and I also spend a long time when I get back looking at my photos. I know I remember the paintings better by having taken the photograph and for me, remembering through a photograph is better than not remembering at all. Between my 40s and 50s, I scarcely took any photos at all and I now regret the conscious decision that I made at that time, believing that I didn’t need photos. I now have only vague memories of places visited and celebratory events over those years.

I do not only take photos for the purpose of remembering. I take them because I have been visually stimulated in some way, because I want to remember and capture that moment of stimulation, and because I want to share it with my partner who is a wheelchair user and sometimes cannot get to places I go to, or with my mother. My mother has dementia and my means of interacting with her is almost entirely through photographs, either current or past photos. (As an aside the other means is through singing old music hall songs. We do a lot of singing when I visit my Mum).

In the Ted Conversations archives I found this question by Charlie Friedman.

Should we live in the moment or should we stop and take a picture? – Is it worth losing part of an experience in order to remember it?

He goes on to write:

…….we can enjoy the sight of a beautiful mountain and be caught up awe in the moment, or we can enjoy a beautiful mountain and wonder how we are going to take a picture and show it to our friends. Is it worth losing part of the experience in order to better remember it in the days or years to come? Is it worth losing parts of future experiences by trying to remember those of the past? 

And then he quote Daniel Kahenman’s question:

What is more important: the experiencing self or the remembering self?

I don’t see that it has to be an either/or and why we can’t be living in the moment and take a picture of that moment.

Reflecting on my friend’s comment I think the problem was not that I wasn’t living in the moment, my moment, but that I wasn’t living in her moment. In other words, I was probably being rude by not giving her my full attention. Maybe if I want to take photographs on walks I should walk on my own. I don’t very often, for example, take photos when I am having meals with friends, so maybe I shouldn’t have my camera out on walks with friends.

But if we agree that living in the moment means …

You are characterized as “in the moment” if wherever you are, whatever you are doing, your mind and body are right there as well. No dwelling on the past, the future, or any obligations or troubles you may be encountering in your life. If you are in the moment, you are right here, right now, nowhere else.  (Source of quote: Urban Dictionary)

… then I was living in the moment on the Cross Bay walk – my moment.  Cross Bay Walk 20-09-2015

6 thoughts on “Photography and ‘Living in the Moment’

  1. francesbell September 23, 2015 / 1:42 pm

    Thanks Jenny – this is a great post. Just as I was thinking “it doesn’t have to be a binary”, I read that you had said the same. We have thought a lot about binaries recently – open/closed, connected/disconnected and I think we definitely agree they aren’t binaries but rather that they need each other- openings need closings, for you to connect to your photography , you need to briefly disconnect from your friend. Not a problem if your friend tolerates a brief absence but could be more of a problem if you fall into quicksand. I have been reading Doreen Massey about space, and she links it to being human:
    ‘it is space that presents us with the question of the social. And it presents us with the most fundamental of political of questions which is how are we going to live together?”

    Massey, D. B. (2005). For space. doi:10.1016/j.futures.2009.04.019

  2. jennymackness September 23, 2015 / 3:40 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to comment Frances and for the link which I will follow up. I like your thought that in order to connect to my photography I had to temporarily disconnect from my friend. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but I think it’s true and maybe what I need to be more aware of is when that is appropriate and when it’s not.

  3. Simpson, Debbie September 23, 2015 / 7:44 pm

    This “friend” sounds like a terrible person. I would have nothing further to do with them if I were you. Your photos are magnificent 😉

    Sent using OWA for iPad ________________________________

  4. jennymackness September 23, 2015 / 7:50 pm

    Actually Debbie this ‘friend’ is a fantastic person. I would hate to lose her friendship not least because she has a fabulous sense of humour. I will be thinking very carefully about whether or not to take my camera out with me on future walks. I think the friendship is more important than the photos 🙂

  5. jaapsoft2 September 24, 2015 / 2:40 pm

    About stop to take a picture. I do take some time to take a picture. Think about the right point of view, and all kinds of photographic point to take in account. In that way taking a picture means being in the moment. Because I need to pay attention and look better than without a camera. I do remember all kinds of places, just because I took a picture.
    When I make a sketch of the view I have to pay still more attention.
    Just looking is just not paying the best attention.
    Your pictures are good.

  6. jennymackness September 24, 2015 / 4:39 pm

    Thank you Jaap and Yes – that’s exactly how I think about it too, but you and I like taking photographs. We could go on a walk together with no problems and be congenially living in our own moments side by side. I suppose it all depends on what living in the moment means to different people. For one person it might be having uninterrupted conversation, for another it might be having uninterrupted time to look down a camera lens 🙂

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