Today my daughter invited me, on about an hour’s notice, to join her at the Portland Japanese Garden; apparently this is the first time in its 50-year history that they’ve opened this magnificent garden on New Year’s Day! So, since it is one of my very favorite places in Portland, I decided to go. It’s a clear and sunny day here today, but quite cold and frosty in the morning, so I couldn’t wait to get there and start taking pictures.
Problem: in the rush to get out the door, I simply could not lay my hands on my camera. Aargh. (I had my iPhone, which takes decent pictures, but I like to take extreme close-ups, and for great quality, I really needed my “real” camera.) After some frantic searching, I gave up, sighed, and left for the Garden.
On the way there, I thought about this, especially that sense of “Ooh, can’t wait to take some pictures!” I was going to the Japanese Garden, reputed to be the finest and most authentic of its kind outside of Japan, but all I was thinking about was snapping away with my camera. I wondered: When does photographing an experience actually take over the experience?
I first started getting into photography (c. film photography era) at a time that coincided with some of my first trips to Europe. On my very first overseas visit (to Greece for my little sister’s wedding), I was constantly taking pictures. Of course this was natural, especially under the special circumstances, but even while I was still there, I started to be bothered by the feeling that I was actually looking around for things to take pictures of— as opposed to actively enjoying all the varied experiences of just being in a foreign country for the first time. I resolved after that trip that, whenever I was seeing something or some place for the first time, I would not take my camera; I would simply record my impressions in my memory.
Today, when I had to leave for the Japanese Garden without my camera, I was reminded of this experience in Greece. So I’ve made a new resolution, or rather a corollary to the original one: Unless I’m specifically planning a trip or outing for the purpose of photography (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), I will go simply for the pleasure of consciously participating in that experience. Do I risk missing opportunities to capture once-in-a-lifetime moments? Sure, but is that a greater risk than missing opportunities to actually experience those moments?
I may still take my camera with me most of the time (assuming I find it), but by this time a year from now, I want to look back at the photos I’ve taken and know that they are only the tangible evidence of a year in which I fully participated in my own wonderful life, in the year 2013.