Are cameras ruining the way we see things?

Having spent a lot of time on holiday recently, I’ve really started to notice the way in which people are using cameras today. Ironically I think the most noticeable point is the lack of actual cameras; very few people seem to have a point and click these days, the use of iPhones and iPads seems to be massively on the rise (which leads me on to my pondering of how a cumbersome iPad can be easier to carry around than a pocket camera?! And also, I’ve rarely seen quality as poor as that in a digital photograph!) I can see the appeal of having one device that does everything you want, however I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness that photographs aren’t sacred like they used to be. Long gone are the days when people thought carefully about what they wanted to photograph and how they should line it up, only having a mere 24 precious frames on the film. Nowadays I think most people don’t photograph for the beauty of something they see, they photograph everything in sight, simply because they can. Apart from those few who still see photography as an art form, I think it’s fair to say that very little thought goes in to taking photos these days.

What strikes me is that photographs are no longer precious, they are simply a way of recording where people have been. I worry that people don’t actually look at where they are with their eyes anymore, they just snap it through a lens. When faced with a magnificent view, a wedding, a family get together, a humorous road sign or a famous person, what is our first reaction? Not to take in the sights or enjoy what we’re seeing, but to grab our cameras. We’re all guilty of it because digital cameras allow us to record everything so there’s no guilt in just snapping away, but does this mean that we’re not actually ‘seeing’ where we are anymore, merely remembering the place by looking back at our photographs?

A friend of mine who leads groups of people on adventurous treks recently told me that once she had a client on a trip through the Himalayas who said that he no longer took a camera on trips.  He wanted to experience it all first hand, not through the lens of a camera, and although this is perhaps an extreme view, I can see where he’s coming from. Very rarely do we now talk about our experiences and reminisce fondly over things that have happened, instead we look back at photographs and remember through them. Are we not looking at things anymore? The most extreme example of this is the tourists who simply photograph EVERYTHING! From the cable car station to the rubbish bins to the toilets. When mountaineering in Chamonix we are frequently asked by foreign tourists if they can have a photograph taken with us. Who wants a holiday snap of a random stranger?!

Photographs used to be special, taken with precision and care and lovingly placed in albums. Now they either get transferred straight from an iPhone on to Facebook to live out their days, or at best will be put on to a computer hard drive to be sorted in to the appropriate folder, possibly never to be looked at again. I try my best to document each year that passes in the form of a photo album/scrapbook and endeavour to blow up and frame the ones I’m particularly proud of, but inevitably the majority of photographs end up languishing in a digital folder.

I love my camera and thoroughly enjoy using it to record wonderful places and memories, but I am becoming more and more conscious that I need to stand and reflect on my surroundings in order to create a lasting memory as well as snapping them in a photo.

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