Photographs and Code Switching

I’m only going to write about photographs but I want to remind myself to write about code-switching.

I was just helping a friend edit her thesis. Though her thesis wasn’t about photography, she spent a few pages talking about the act of taking a picture and what it meant to her in a particular situation. It was a good read, you should check it out some time.

As I was reading that, I thought about why I took, and continue to take, pictures.

A lot of times, people think taking pictures is dumb. Let me rephrase: I met a good number of people in college who didn’t think taking pictures was worthwhile. They didn’t actually think it was dumb, they just thought it created a barrier between the picture taker and the moment.

I want to agree with that idea but I just can’t.

In college, especially during the first 2 years, I took a lot of pictures. Not a boatload of pictures, but maybe two or three hundred. I still have many of those pictures on my laptop (and on FB which is one of the reasons I keep stopping myself from deleting my FB page). For me, pictures don’t remove people from experiences, they cement those experiences. A picture is taken in an instant, maybe 30 seconds. The effect of a picture can last for years. I look back at pictures from freshman year and it reminds me of stuff I definitely would have forgotten had the picture not existed.

But it’s not just that. Photographs don’t just remind me of experiences, they remind me of me. They help me feel what I felt when I took that picture. They also remind me of how I felt during the entire experience, not just the moment I flashed a photo.

Other times, photos make me think about my motives. My current FB cover photo is a picture I took two and a half years ago in Chicago on a trip with my friends. It says ‘FORGIVE’ in pink on the cement. It also captures Lake Michigan. Every time I look at that picture I think, was I trying to get a picture of the word or of the lake? I don’t know. And 2.5 years later, it doesn’t affect the world in any important way except for the fact that anytime someone sees my FB page, they’re bombarded with the word, ‘FORGIVE’ just like I was, whether it sneaks up on them or they’re looking for it.

Every picture isn’t one of a landscape, sometimes you have pictures of people. Those bring back memories too. I have a picture from freshman year of me eating pizza next to my roommate at the pizza place across the street from campus (which no longer exists, unfortunately). I remember that we did that a few times. I remember how much I liked pizza. I remember giving that (and Hulu) up for Lent that year because my pizza habits were getting out of control. Then I remember that me and my roommates used to have a lot of fun together before we all went our separate ways.

So yeah, photos take us out of experiences, but only for a moment, and usually only so that we can enjoy it that much more. When I photograph something, it’s like saying, this is beautiful, this is amazing, this is important to me at this moment, this is fun. Back then, I used to carry my camera around in my pocket. Nowadays, the pictures I take are much less important and much more temporary -(they’re usually taken on Snapchat and promptly wiped away). The folders of pictures were diminishing by senior year and are non-existent now.

This summer, I’ll try to take more pictures. Not for FB, or Snapchat, or Twitter but for me and for posterity.

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