Have you been to a zoo or aquarium lately? If so, was that sweet little moment teaching your child about the new birth of a tiger cub thwarted by the shutter-happy parent trying to get a snap of little Johnny in front of the exhibit?
“Johnny. JOHNNY! Johnny, look at mama. Mama. MAMA. OVER HERE. No, look up. No, not at the sky, but at me. I’m right HERE.”
Lady, I’m pretty sure your son, the tiger, and the people across the zoo looking at the penguins all know exactly where you are.I have hundreds if not thousands of pictures of these first few years with my children…and in the depth of last winter, I started backing up photos, uploading to Snapfish or Shutterfly and culling out the bad shots. I learned a few things about photo-parenting in the process.
We are making up for all the photos that weren’t snapped of us as children. I am fairly confident my parents found it painful and inconvenient to bring the camera to family functions or memorable events. I have four or so photographs of my younger days – sitting on Santa’s knee, sitting on a potty (umm, thanks Mom, that one halted my potty learning until I was four or so), sitting on Aunt So-and-So’s lap at a family reunion, and finally sitting next to my cat that ran away because I always pulled its tail.
Better technology does not make for better photographs. Most of us still do not know how to frame a photograph well. Camera shake and improper shutter speeds leave a percentage of our digital photos in a total blur. I seemed to have photo snapping down when I was only guaranteed 24 (film) shots to get the picture right.
We have developed a need to record and document SO much of our lives. As if that digital file somehow keeps the past living for us. I have to consciously stop and put down the camera when I am in the presence of a truly great moment so I can savor it. The picture will remind me of what happened, but the story that has been logged in my memory is what will really bring back the moment for me. Listen to the lyrics of The Cure’s “Pictures of You” or watch Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in Paris” to get my gist.
Living behind a camera screen removes us from having authentic interactions with others. My daughter has endured four years of my photobuggery. Now she just looks at me and says “I don’t want a picture taken.” Harumph. I probably took the camera out because she was enjoying the moment and now I just ruined that for her by trying to “save it”.
It also blinds us to our actions. I used the zoo as an example because it seems to be the one place I find a consistent lack of awareness of others. I have seen grown men and women step in front of my children and block their view of an animal in the name of getting a good shot. A few years ago, I saw two parents coaching their children so they could get a good photo of them in front of the gorilla exhibit. The son was banging on the window (almost directly underneath the sign that says “Do not bang on the window. It F****ing pisses off the animals, Sh**head!”) and the daughter was trying to stand on the railing. My friend and I tried to politely ask them to stop but they kept clicking the parents and shushed us away so they could keep clicking the shutter.
It lands us with so many photographs that there is no way we could conceivably have something to do with them all. I have tried scrapbooking, making photo books, and finding enough albums to house my prints – my shelves are at their carrying capacity already and I’m pretty sure I want to leave some room for the next 16 years they live at home and maybe some extra space for graduations, marriages, and grandbabies.
What will I do with all these pictures? This question has started to spill over into what I think of how and when others take photos of me and my family. For example, I was at a music festival recently and my son started to dance in front of my blanket. It was cute and sweet…and when I looked back at the band, I saw a fellow concert-goer with a long lens pointed right at my child. What does it mean for someone else to have his likeness on their hard drive? What will that person do with that picture? It’s visual information that doesn’t really belong to him. I do not know this person’s intent, mental health, occupation, or deviant behaviors. Maybe I’m being overprotective, but isn’t that part of my job?
So consider how you choose to use your camera and I will do the same.