Live the Moment • Tell the Story

10% of all the photos ever taken were shot in 2011.

Over the past few months I have noticed this statement, in a few variations, appearing all over the web.  Most recently, it’s been used by Western Digital as an advertisement for media backup solutions, but as near as I can tell, it originated in the September 2012 issue of Fortune magazine.

I’ve been unable to lay my hands on that issue to see if the person making the claim had numbers to back it up, but it feels true.

Ten percent of all the photos ever taken, throughout history, eclipsed in a single year.

I think it safe to say that, by the end of the decade, we’ll have captured more images than in the entire history of photography.

It’s an amazing thought.

It’s also a little horrifying.

“Why horrifying?” you might ask.

Is it because of the sheer volume of poorly composed dreck that is flooding the web?  Am I really so repulsed by the thought of a million million women making the duck-face at themselves in harshly lit bathroom mirrors, or the myriad badly filtered images of uneaten plates of food, or the seemingly endless parade of bare feet, knobby toes firmly planted in the indistinguishable sand of beaches both exotic and mundane?

No.

Okay, yes – a little (I mean really girls, the duck-face thing is in no way attractive).

What I’m really talking about here is a shift in the way we experience the world and how we relate those experiences to others.

What I am noticing, more and more, is that we are not living in the moment so much as we are interposing a camera-phone between ourselves and the moment with the hope of either capturing it for later, or disseminating it to others, instantly, via social media.

Yeah, that’s neat.  Now stop it.

I mean it.  Just stop.

Yes, I see the blurred and jerky video you took while at the concert.

Now put it away and tell me the story.

Tell me how you felt the music move you and how you moved with the music.  Tell me about that moment when it seemed like you made eye-contact with the lead singer and for a moment it was like he was singing to you.  Tell me about the energy that boiled around you from all the other people who were grooving and dancing and sharing in the power of the moment with you.

Can you do that?  Can you tell me that story if you were standing there holding a phone up between you and the band, watching the thing happening right in front of you, all around you, on a tiny little screen?  Tell me, while you were filtering the experience through bits of metal and plastic, were you really even there at all?

We’ve stopped telling each other stories.  We’re out of practice.

We used to do it all the time.

We lived by the stories we shared.

They defined us, our experiences, our culture and our history.

The pictures were always there for us: crude drawings on cave walls that held within them the secrets of creation, waiting only for the right storyteller to release them.

Later, we began writing things down, and that was better because the stories could be preserved longer, even if they did lose a little of their life and spontaneity in the telling.

Still, the pictures were there, and later the photographs, to lend support to the tale told.

When did we turn the world on its head?

When did the story become the thing that was there to support the photograph?

When life presents you with the extraordinary, try living within that moment instead of just documenting it.  Your memory is worth a thousand pictures!

When life presents you with the extraordinary, try living within that moment instead of just documenting it. Your memory is worth a thousand pictures!

“I saw this amazing thing this morning, here, let me show you.”

No.

Stop.

Put the phone away and tell me about the amazing thing you saw.

Tell me about it because I want to know how it looked to you, how it sounded, felt, smelled or tasted.  Tell me about it because if it was so amazing, I want to know that you experienced it and were not just there to take a picture of it.  Tell me about it because, if you can do that, if you can tell a story about the thing you experienced, it means that you thought about it, that you used your mental faculties to string the events into a narrative which means something to you and is something that, in the telling, may mean something to me.  Tell me about it, so that you will tell the story again better the next time, and the next, and the experience will live on, instead of becoming just another neglected pic in your cluttered camera roll.

The best way to share joy is to have experienced it.

The best way to share joy is to have experienced it.

Live the moment.

Tell the story.

5 Comments

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Photography

5 responses to “Live the Moment • Tell the Story

  1. Ha – glad to say I have no idea what the Duck face thing is. I agree with your sentiments, even although I used to be a photographer I often leave the camera at home. You record the moment with your soul – a combination of eyes, and ears, smells and sounds and a whole host of other webs that we don’t even have names for. When we imprint a moment with all of these – thats why decades later a smell is the trigger, traveling along those invisible webs and takes us back to that very moment! Magical indeed!

    • Oh don’t get me wrong, I think photography is an incredibly powerful medium. But like anything else, that power can be diluted through overuse. For most people, I fear it has become more of a crutch than a tool or an art.

  2. Nice! It’s an intriguing argument and I almost bought in, but at the last I disagree. Not everyone–not now and most certainly not way back when, or then, or anywhere in between–is a storyteller. For heaven’s sake, some are engineers. But I digress.

    My thought: someone had to go and *see* all those Greek and Roman plays in the massive amphitheaters, right? Most people, if they were lucky, got to go to some. Others were hangers on, listening at the doors or from back alleys. Some were portrayers, actors–story tellers who use their body. It was just a handful who did the writing, the telling–then left it to the interpretation of the masses. Before stone arenas for stories, we had gatherings ’round the fire–not to listen to many storytellers, but to listen to just one, maybe two.

    Yes, generations pass oral traditions down to one another, but not all are done well. That lack of eloquence could explain the polarization of viewpoints. And not all parents told stories, or felt comfortable talking. Half the world is an introvert, after all.

    Instead, the rest, the grand audience, seeks to mimic the story they heard, find a medium in which to share their emotion. Only a few choose writing. More choose telling. But most humans, I’ve found, are visual. They show. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

    That’s what all these photos are: imitations. Wilde said “life imitates art.” The photos are all vain attempts (in every sense of the word) of trying to demonstrate what a person wants to be, thinks they know, and hopes he or she understands.

    • I think storytelling was not as specialized as you suggest. In most ancient cultures, the cost of a travelers rest in your home was the stories he would tell (acquired from previous hosts along the way). Storytelling WAS the nightly news. The brothers Grimm did not write down folk tales from story-telling specialists, but from the common folk, living in the Black Forest. It is the introduction of other media (writing/photography/video) that has distracted folks away from the old traditions and made storytelling into a specialist discipline. I’d argue, we’ve lost something in the exchange.

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