That was Now, This is Then

Text & Photos by Becca Chairin

The night was June 13th, 2013. I had just graduated from high school the week before, and now my classmates and I were spending a few days on a tropical island before we all flew off to separate corners of the world. I brought along with me a point-and-shoot Olympus camera and half a dozen rolls of film. After dancing all night, we relaxed by the pool and stayed up to watch the sun rise. The image capturing that moment consists of my friend's hand holding her half-smoked cigarette, an empty beer bottle on the floor, and pool water-soaked playing cards strewn about. The capturing of this photograph was "in the moment;” it was not premeditated or planned. It was a real moment that actually happened. It was "now."

What drives people to pick up a camera and snap a photo? For some, it is to create art. For most, however, it is to capture what is happening in that moment on to a shareable, transferable, and printable 2-dimensional plane. Yet the "moment" is always fleeting, thus, once the photo has been captured, is it still "in the moment?"

Photographs mirror our own consciousness, they see what our own eyes see. Photographs are physical and digital proof of an event. Most importantly, each and every photograph is unique. A photograph is to a specific moment in time as a fingerprint is to its finger. If it were snapped even a second before or a second after, the same photograph could not be produced. Thus, we feel as if we have been transported to that moment when we view a photograph. Even if we weren't present in that moment, in that photograph we see the clearest image we will ever have of actually being there. But a photograph is not a moment at all. It is only a symbol of a moment, a simple representation, a mere image of light. A photograph is an object in itself. It is separate from the moment. The goal of the photographer seems to be to capture, somehow, the "moment," but the act of taking a photo is an event in itself. By bringing a camera into the space, the moment is changed. So what is it really that is really being captured? The moment of the event or the moment of the photograph being captured?

There is a paradox in the act of taking photos. We have the ability to carry cameras on us at all times so that we are better prepared to capture experiences if they are ever to arrive unannounced. But the more we are prepared to capture a photograph of our experiences, the less likely we are to participate in the experience ourselves. The act of capturing photos requires stepping out from engaging in the action of the moment, both physically and mentally. Photographers must become spectators, not participants.

A paradox even exists in the act of viewing photos. We take photos to remember what has happened, and in order for them to help us remember, we look at our photos. Over and over again. We look at them to the point where the image in our memory begins to fade and is eventually replaced with this more tangible, still visible photographic image. We risk making experiences less real by having them exist in photographs as we start to rely more and more on photographs to let us know the experience really happened.

What was happening in the moment captured in that photo I took the summer after graduation? I don't quite remember what was actually happening when that photo was snapped. Not the conversation we were having, the clothes I was wearing, I don’t even think I remember all the people who were there. All I have to remember that moment by is this one snapshot. Yet the more I fixate on this photo, the harder it is to hold in my memory other images from that night. This photo is my one point of reference, it is the image that is clearest in my mind's eye, and it is also one of the only images from that night that remains in my memory.

Perhaps one way to stop this disappearing act from happening is to take photos: all day, everyday. I will have a visual reminder of every moderately significant moment in my life. On the other hand, taking photos with such frequency will keep me from actively participating in my own life. Memories do fade, but so do photographs. They are only made of matter, whether they are ink on paper, squares of silver and plastic, or a series of 0's and 1's stored in a digital realm. As tough and rugged as photos are, they, too, are ephemeral.

So I am left with two choices. I can step back and record the evidence of the significant moments in my life before they are gone forever, or I can let them go. I may not remember the context surrounding the photograph from that summer, but at least I have a visual artifact to reference back to when I want to be reminded of all that is beautiful in my life. What choice do I pick? I think it's safe to say that I haven’t decided yet.

To see more of Becca's work you can visit her website