Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Of cameras and photographs and memories

During this trip to Pakistan, I have done a lot of sight seeing mostly in and around Islamabad but also ventured to the mountains. I forgot my half-decent camera in Dubai when I was visiting family. So, all my sight seeing was captured by my Q-mobile phone camera. 

If I may be bold enough to say so, my camera did a good job of recording my adventures and, some unforgettable tender moments. Kavita's first trip to her mother's country has been joyful and knowledagble. She has seen almost all the parks and monuments in Islamabad, a Mughal fort near Jhelum and the majestic mountains and beautiful valleys in Baltistan. And, she has spent many many hours playing with her grandparents at our museum-like-house in F-11/4 that houses our memorabilia, souvenir collections, and memories of our years living abroad during our father's diplomatic service. 

While I was up in Baltistan, I once again reflected on how obsessed we have become with our cameras and the desperate need to record and share our journeys, our trips and every day life on Facebook and other social media platforms. As I was clicking shot after shot from dozens of different angles the lakes and the valleys, I realised that I was spending more time holding a camera than actually savouring the beauty, breathing the fresh mountain air or just relaxing. It takes about a good couple of hours of uploading, editing and selecting the best pictures from the couple hundred one can taken in the frenzy of one exciting day's adventures. I realised I was only living the moments while looking at the pictures on my computer. I felt content at having made a beautiful album and, it was my piece of evidence that I was up there. That I meticulously and faithfully captured the place and time. But it sure does take away time from just living the moment regardless of whether you have a photo to remember it by or not.

All the guides and drivers are also very aware that taking dozens and dozens of photos are what tourists do. They happily oblige by taking your photo for you if you are alone. Moreover, you don't even need to ask anyone to take several shots. It's understood!

Once upon a time, we had good old film cameras. We bought rolls of Kodak or Fuji film rolls but would very carefully photograph our trips and events. One roll would allow you to make 24 or 36 photos? Even if you used up 2 rolls of film in a trip, you would have, at the most, 72 photos?

Guess what, I have more than 300 photos of my Baltistan trip alone. With the advent of digital photography, we can take unlimited number of photos. You can take so many more photos and really capture your trips in detail. Where before you would mostly take photos of people posing in front of famous buildings or in front of a beautiful lake and, maybe take one or two photos of scenery alone, now you can do all you want. There's no limit! The number of photos in a film is not going to limit you. Now you can capture every single moment, every single angle, every stone and brick and leaf. Where before your parents might have been horrified at having "wasted" a photo, now there's no such thing. 

Are we glad that we can now record everything in minute detail? Does it connect us more to our friends around the world because now we can instantly share our experiences? I love being able to record my traveling and sight seeing in such detail. Moreover, I feel the Facebook photo album is now an amateur art form itself. You can relate your entire journey chronologically through photographs. If you take time to take decent photos, select the best ones, and put them in order, I feel you are relating a story. Your pictures, with clever and honest captions, can say so much. 

My friends around the world enjoy looking at my pictures. They enjoy seeing pictures of Pakistan and wish they can also visit the places I have seen. 

But when you are actually there - in the midst of that awe-inspiring, heart-warming and unforgettable place or moment - can you resist taking a photo? Would you ever go on a trip and, choose not to take your camera with you and instead, choose to rather remember only? 

Last year Haresh, Kavita and I went to the Nee Gba River Festival just outside of Monrovia. Of course I photographed our visit. When I came home, I perused through the photos and, re-lived the wonderful afternoon in vivid detail. But I also remember thinking to myself that those days are gone when you would re-live a moment or a trip just in your head. 

We only have a few token black and white pictures of our parents's childhoods and weddings, if that! But mine and my siblings' childhoods were faithfully captured by our parents in the 80s and 90s. And me? I have taken it to the next level with my own daughter. 

Do I wish I could see more photos of my parents when they were children? Of course! But then again, I do enjoy listening to their wild stories about themselves and imagining it in my head. 

I guess this is what digital photography is going to do. We will never be allowed to remember it in our minds and hearts unless we actually leave the camera at home. 

It is the same with the mirror. Unless you don't have one and, don't look into one all the time, you are less obsessed about how you look. 

Now that I am at the end of my blog post, I have solved the puzzle. You can balance the superficiality of having taken so many photographs of an event or journey by also writing about it! So that you do not appear shallow after having plastered countless selfies of yourself, write about your journey! 

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