In addition to buying car seats, bassinets, clothes, carriages, thermometers, infant tubs, diapers, mobiles, blankets, toys; thinking of names, going to birthing classes, finding pediatricians and gaming daycare scenarios, another issue is pressing on my harried consciousness – will I take pictures in the delivery room?
Many people, including my wife, think this is a no-brainer. Of course you will! But I’m not so sure.
It has nothing to do with propriety. I wouldn’t dream of snapping pics from the obstetrician’s vantage point. That’s a good way to get choked out by a hormone raging spouse. But do I really want to spend the first seconds of my child’s life, a time that will never come again, trying to figure out the exposure settings on a camera?
I’ve never been one to take pictures. I got a digital camera for Christmas but never used it. Now it sits in megapixel obsolescence in a desk drawer. I’ve also never liked having my picture taken – a fact that aggravates my wife to no end. If you look at snaps of me as a child, I’m withdrawn, even fearful – as if I was some pygmy in the Amazonian jungle fearful the alchemy of light and celluloid would somehow capture a piece of my soul.
As a result, much of my adult life went undocumented. I have few pictures of my time in seminary, vacations went unrecorded and I’ll be damned if I can find a single picture of my time as a waiter. The obvious exception was all the publicity photos and vids when my books came out. For the most part, I’m a figure lurking in the background of other peoples’ photo albums.
My wife, Annie, however, is a ferocious photographer. She owns a very expensive digital camera and can do wonders with Photoshop. Whereas you could stick all the pictures I’ve taken on half a single memory stick, her multi-terabyte collection requires a server farm. She gets the urge to record things, I do not. I guess opposites do attract.
Sure, I’ve taken pictures of my dog, my wife standing on the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, but those are exceptions. When I see something I want to remember I just look at it. I think scrambling for a camera interferes with the memory making process. Today, with camera phones, Instagram, You Tube, Facebook, Pinterest, and Flickr people are photo archiving their lives. Do we really need to take pictures of an entree in a restaurant? Do we need a slick video production of a baby’s first steps complete with a cutesy soundtrack? We’re offloading our memories onto the Internet and, as some studies suggest, we are weakening our natural ability to recall the very memories we seek to capture.
There have been times in my life when I saw something and realized that image would be in my mind until the day I die – a meteor storm while camping in the mountains, a naked girl lying in the moonlight, The Twin Towers burning, my Dad in the recovery room after heart surgery, my dog snoozing in his favorite chair, a woman’s face when I told her I didn’t love her, my wife in her wedding dress, a person dying of AIDS, the skyline of New York shrouded in fog, watching seals play in La Jolla, gondoliers on the Grand Canal, the seductive evening sprawl of Vegas, rocketing down Laurel Canyon Boulevard, my wife running up the street because she was late for our second date, our first kiss, a woman dying in front of me, getting a toy firehouse for Christmas, monks chanting the Hours, a boy I punched, the dark eyes of a violent psychopath, my nephew only an hour old, my friend dying of cancer, eyeball to eyeball with a majestic buck in the forest, Mom making paper hats and the raucous crowd at the first ball game my dad took me to in 1974. All these images and more are seared into my brain, no camera needed.
Of course, people who eschew photography can be as annoying as those media snobs who say they don’t own a T.V. or only watch PBS. I’m well aware of photography’s ability to capture beauty and pathos, to shed light into dark corners and literally change our view of the world. It is an art form to be respected – and something my wife does extremely well. But I wish people would just stop clicking their iPhones for a moment and see reality unadulterated. Enjoy dawn in the Piazza San Marco with your camera in its bag. Give that gustatory delight its privacy. Capture images with your mind – a place where the NSA won’t find them, Facebook can’t sell them and they’re copyrighted with your soul.
Oh don’t worry, they’ll be plenty of pictures of my little girl, but not in her first moment, the font of all her moments to come, Some things are too sacred for pictures.
That moment is just for my wife and me.