I refused to take photos and videos for a long time. Almost a decade. I would tell people (my ex, friends, family, etc.) that it wasn’t really necessary. My argument was something along the lines of: "You don’t always need to document everything." And, while I still agree with that sentiment in the most literal sense, I would use that thought process as an excuse not to document anything. Ten years out from that decision, I now see how flawed that thinking was.
FIG 1. REAL LIFE PHOTO
I created my Instagram account in 2012. I was a junior in high school and saw many of my peers joining the photo sharing service. Naturally, I felt the need to join in. I posted a few photos here and there. One of me getting an Aaron Carter CD after a haircut. Another in a bathtub my siblings and I found in a construction site. Eventually, I’d post one of me skydiving on North Shore in my first year at the University of Hawaii. Ballpark, I posted about 30 photos in three years.
When I dropped out of college and moved in with some extended family in 2015, I (stupidly) decided to delete my Facebook and wipe my Instagram account. I can’t honestly remember if it was an act of rebellion (still not sure who against), embarrassment, social exhaustion, or prep to reinvent myself. Regardless of the reason, I didn’t save backups of those photos and that kind of sucks. Those were moments of my adolescence that I can’t recover.
At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. Why would I want to see what my hair looked like in 2012? Who cares about a bathtub in a construction site? Garrett ten years later checking in. I do.
FIG 2. CHECKING IN
In October of 2022, I traveled abroad to Australia. I stayed in Sydney, Dee Why, and Cairns for a total of 28 days. Brand new continent, culture, people. The whole nine. I took a grand total of 17 photos and 10 videos on my phone. 27 things! That’s not even a single photo or video everyday! Granted, I wasn’t at the Great Barrier Reef or bungee jumping everyday, but what did the house I stayed in look like? Did it have red brick? Gray? I genuinely don’t remember and that’s bothered me more and more.
This leads us back to my original thought process of "I don’t need to document every single little thing". It’s not like I need to know what color the bricks were (this guy’s obsessed with bricks). It’s not really about the bricks. It’s about the places, as a whole. The people. The Unicorn was such a strange pub with a cast of characters and not a single photo was taken. My friend Chris and I got hustled by a few pool sharks at the RSL in Dee Why. No cataloguing of the havoc those men wreaked on our poor soles. It’s not about taking the photo to take the photo. It’s knowing that one day I’ll want to kook back at that moment in time.
FIG 3. CHUM IN THE WATER
The irony is not lost on me. Droves of friends have explained to me this exact reasoning. I’ve heard the pitches and their points were solid. Sadly, it just had to click when I was in a place where I could actually hear it, process it, and change my habits. It’s like learning to ride a bike, taking photos. I genuinely have to remind myself to take out my phone or camera and press the button. It’s second nature for a lot of people, but I’ve had to lunge out of my comfort zone to take a picture of a bridge. It’s so strange that I can strike up a conversation with anyone anywhere, but I think twice about capturing (via photo, not like evil villain capture) the people I care about.
Previously, I relied on others to do the documenting. I was the "Hey, can you send me that?" guy. And while that can be fine (for the most part) in a group setting, there are so many times I’d wander off by myself and have nothing to remember it by. My mind isn’t a steel trap. It’s much closer to one of those flimsy lockboxes people have at garage sales. Or a duct tape wallet. Things go in and then evaporate into thin air. In fact, I think I’m the perfect candidate to take more photos specifically because of my subpar mental filing system.
I can only imagine John Photograph (inventor of the camera) tightening up the last screw on his invention and saying aloud to his brother: "Some poor sap will really need this contraption one day! His memory is butter, see?" And his brother Walter responds with "Yeah, boss! He’s toast!" And they do finger guns at each other, laugh, and apply a thick grease to their mustaches.
FIG 4. JOHN PHOTOGRAPH
Maybe there’s something to strictly recalling events from memory. Maybe that’s why I preferred not taking photos. I could choose how I wanted to remember things. Maybe the sunset was just a tad more pink in my memory. Maybe they were smiling a bit more. Maybe I looked happier than I actually was. Things go your way more when you choose how to remember them (if you do at all). You create the narrative. But photos feel more definitive to me. A reflection of who you were, who you were with, where you were, etc. A literal snapshot of a moment in time which now feels more reliable than having to second guess if I was even there.
Just take more photos and videos. It’s not hard and you (meaning me) may feel a bit touristy or awkward in some situations, but take a second to weigh the outcome: Look dumb (which, you, by the way, are the only one thinking that) for a brief moment or forget the memory over time. Forget exactly what it looked like.
Have I been oversteering lately? Taking too many photographs? Maybe. I’ve taken roughly 2000 photos and videos in the last three months alone. Is that a better problem to have in contrast to having no photographs at all? Absolutely.
I know both Google and Apple Photos have this feature where they’ll automatically create a slideshow for you based on photos taken in a specific timeframe or place (ex. a weekend in the Alps, your trip to Mexico, John Photographs’s funeral, etc.). Funny enough, Apple stopped making them for me last year. Which, makes complete sense since it would have just been screenshots and memes at that time. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m excited to see what they make for me a year from now.