Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Take pictures of what matters

I was chatting with three old friends on WhatsApp the other day when the conversation turned—as it often does—to reminiscing about the year we spent living in Lebanon together. It's been a full five years since that chapter in our lives. We're all spread out across the globe now. We have careers and significant others and, in one particularly extreme case, even a baby. We still use the same WhatsApp chat that we used to coordinate with each other back on the streets of Beirut and in airport terminals across the Middle East. But now it's mostly used for sharing updates on where we are and what we're doing now. That is, until we start talking about days gone by, and sharing photos and videos from back then.

But what's surprising is that—for a team that was devoted entirely to taking photos and producing videos—there's oddly little documentation of our actual lives together. This is something one of my friends lamented the other day, and said we should remember how fast our lives go by and to make an effort to capture what really matters. 

What it seemed like really mattered back then was our assignments. And we still have hard drives full of dramatic wide-angle time-lapses from Casablanca to Abu Dhabi, and reams of staged, stock-footage of locals interacting with each other. Yet the only videos of ourselves are some shaky shots with snippets of conversation when we left the camera rolling between takes. If we scroll back in our Instagrams, there are lots of slick photos of our silhouettes jumping on the horizon that got lots of likes. But the only photos of us in our normal life situations are a few that one of us shot with a disposable camera for the sake of being ironic. 

What we were working on at the time seemed important. And taking candid photos or videos of ourselves seemed like a distraction. But looking back now, I think we all agree that our relationships with each other probably had more lasting value than anything else we did that year. As everything else we did continues to fade into obsolescence, that will only become more true.  

I get a similar feeling when I watch home videos that my parents took from when I was a little kid. The are grainy, and absurdly long for modern attention spans, but they really focus on what clearly mattered then, and what still matters now: People and our lives together as they really are. 

Today, we all have cameras in our pockets that are a thousand times better than any camcorder in the 1990s could dream of being. And we use them with a regularity that would've been unimaginable a decade ago. But when I look at what we use them to capture now, in the age of Instagram and Snap and TikTok, I wonder if any of it is anything that will have any meaning at all to us 10 or 20 years from now? And I think it's even more true what my friend said the other day: Remember to take lots of photos and videos of your life and the people who matter to you now. It goes by so fast.