Photography’s Role in Documenting Memories

According to Susan Sontag’s 1973 article “Photography,” taking pictures goes hand in hand with traveling and tourism. I’d have to say that proves even more true today. People document not only their vacations but practically every other major event that takes place in their lives: weddings, graduations, holidays, birthdays, and practically all forms of significant gatherings having to do with family, as Sontag points out. Not to document such occasions goes against social norms. This is more true now than ever before because social media creates a kind of accountability for people. While it is not mandatory for you to post pictures of your most recent trip on a social media site, friends and family who want to share your experience might ask, “Did you post the pictures on Facebook?” In today’s society, this is a completely accepted way of sharing one’s life.

Sontag mentions that people feel obligated to document the fun they had–whether on a trip or more so now, on a night out. The photographs prove you not only went somewhere but that you also had a great time. But does there ever become a point when the camera distracts you from the actual experience you’re trying to document? I know for me the answer is yes. Sometimes I find I’m so busy trying to take the “perfect” shot, that I’m not fully taking in my surroundings and interacting with them. Activities can almost become more about the photographs than the reason for doing it in the first place.

For example, on a trip to Colorado, my husband and I took about 100 photographs when we went horseback riding with my best friend. Each view from the mountain we rode on seemed better than the one before it, so it’s hard not to get a trigger happy with the camera. But really, how many pictures do we need of me on a (very slow) horse about 10 yards behind the group? Still, looking through the pictures from that trip (and others) is fun! I like reminiscing about the memories. Having photographs of fun times feels like a guarantee I will not forget those times. It’s like a comfort blanket for my brain.

I wanted to share several photographs from various trips that relate to the natural world. I chose the pictures that I felt not only encompass a space but that also show some kind of artistic qualities discussed here, including the rule of thirds for the horizon in landscapes and the diagonal rule.

Dinosaur National Park, Utah

The picture above, taken at Dinosaur National Park in Utah, demonstrates the diagonal rule as seen in the sloping of the mountain off to the left then down into the middle. This photograph also shows the natural beauty of the Colorado river in the summer and the pristine condition of the protected land surrounding it. While the weather in this photograph looks perfect, later in the day, on a hike, my friends and I got caught in huge downpour and had to hide under an alcove for protection.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

While the photograph above shows elements of human development within a natural landscape, I still think it demonstrates several photographic composition rules such as the diagonal rule and the rule of thirds. The diagonal rule is seen in the cables on the lift cutting diagonally across the sky. The rule of thirds can be applied horizontally to the foreground, the mountains in the background, and the sky above the horizon. The landscape picture below also demonstrates these properties in the shadows on the mountain slopes and the tree line. The horizon line rests 1/3 of the way down the photograph.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Taking photos is ingrained into society. It is how we share experiences with those who were not present at the time. It is how we document our lives. While my husband and I may not need 100 photographs of us riding horses, I can’t bring myself to delete them. And why should as long I have the space to save all them on my computer? One day, hopefully when we show them to our grandchildren, we’ll be happy to have them all. Maybe we’ll notice something in one of them that we didn’t see before. Or maybe we wouldn’t have caught all the moments we did if we hadn’t had the camera out in the first place.

This entry was written by slbrown85 and published on February 16, 2012 at 1:27 am. It’s filed under Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Photography’s Role in Documenting Memories

  1. kelpeterson on said:

    Ah! That’s what I was forgetting. I kept seeing “photography as art this” and “photography as art that” and my brain would not register what it meant. Rules of thirds, diagonals, and such. Okay. I feel awake now! Thank you! 🙂

    I know exactly what you mean about focusing too much on the pictures and forgetting interact/take it in. When I stayed in Guatemala, I felt like the camera never left my eye, and the pictures weren’t all that wonderful either. (Cheap camera.) It seemed like I could have remembered and experienced more if I hadn’t been so focused on the photos.

    I kept that in mind when I studied in Spain and, with a few exceptions for clouds (because I love clouds), took a picture or two and then put the camera down. I felt so much better and so much more relaxed for it (and got to mentally laugh and point at the other silly Americans who couldn’t stop taking pictures ^^).

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