Why she takes so many pictures.

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

Women take lots of pictures. Just look at Facebook. Or go to a prom or a wedding or a homecoming. It makes me wonder sometimes—do we actually care about this event, or do we care more about the pictures? I think about the times I have regretted oh I didn’t get a picture with her! But don’t mind or regret the fact that I didn’t actually talk to her. Why is it that, for a girl, forgetting her camera can put a damper on the whole day? And why, when you look through a Facebook album, do you see the same picture of the same four girls in the same bar with the same hands-on-hips pose over and over and over again? What drives this?

Women (and all people, but particularly women) feel the need to preserve memories. This comes from a good impulse. The woman taking pictures of her baby generally does so because she sees something beautiful and good and she knows that that beautiful and good thing will change and grow into something else. She wants to forever preserve the beauty and goodness of the moment the child is in and the moment she shared with him. This can be the same impulse that drives the girl wanting a picture of her prom date who asked her out over the intercom at school. Forever that picture will remind her of how special he made her feel. Because the way she felt was good. And she may never feel that way again. So then, how could there be anything wrong with female excessive picture taking?

The problem with excessive picture taking is that it has the potential to detract so much from that wonderful moment that you actually end up missing it. And the problem with missing the moment is that well, that one should be obvious. If the moment is so worth preserving, why are we missing it? It seems rather illogical. But human beings can be illogical, and often we are illogical when we are afraid. I suggest then, that excessive picture taking is often rooted in fear. Somehow, we jump from wanting to preserve a wonderful moment because it will eventually pass to becoming entirely afraid of its passing, and thus obsessive about preserving it. Every mother knows that her child must grow up and that the way he looks as a baby will be no more except in memories and pictures. And every mother ought to want to keep those moments. But how many mothers go from wanting to keep it to absolutely dreading its passing? I wonder, is the same picture with the same four girls in the same bar every night because the moment keeps being so wonderful and so necessary to preserve even if each picture looks the same? Or is it borne out of a fear of losing whatever was found in that bar and with those friends? Is it borne out of a fear that once there are no more pictures to take in the bar, well, there will be less to live for? Maybe, says the subconscious, if I take enough pictures of it all, I will have enough to look back on when the “best days of my life” are over. Maybe, somehow, I can extend the moment so those days don’t have to end. Maybe, my picture taking will make me immortal.

Now I know that most of us aren’t thinking about immortality while taking pictures. And I would guess that most of us are honestly just having a great time and wanting to preserve that time innocently and healthily. But women (and men, I suppose) think about what drives you to take the pictures you do. I wouldn’t be surprised if for many of us (I know at times it has been for me,) it is borne out of a fear of passing moments. And why is immortality related? Well, because passing moments remind us that our life is a passing moment. When a child grows up, when a groom carries his bride up the stairs away from her fairy tale wedding, at a graduation, at a twenty-first birthday party, we may, amidst our joys and excitements, feel a sudden and unexpected pang of fear. We may not always recognize it right away, but it is the realization of our mortality. When something good ends, we are reminded that everything ends. I suggest that we often take pictures, even frantically, because we know we are going to die. And we don’t want to die.

But see, what we often forget, as we panic at the sight of our wrinkling skin and greying hair (or even simply our passing semesters or the ticking clock on a Sunday night,) is that the thing we want to preserve—goodness, beauty, relationships, the human spirit—these things are immortal. The baby’s first smile, the first day of kindergarten, the last day of high school, the ninetieth birthday party, our best friends—these things live on forever! And I don’t mean in a sappy way and I don’t mean simply that they live on in our memories or pictures (for if that were the case, well then, frantic picture taking would make perfect sense.) I mean that the thing that we loved so much about those moments is immortal. That’s a sheer fact that needs no real faith. Goodness has always been and always will be infused throughout our world. The part that needs faith is that there is a place and a time and person where that Goodness exists as one entity. That someday, all those pictures won’t be necessary because we have the Real Thing. We have all the joy and the love and the beauty that was shared in those moments in its full force. Not just snippets here and there throughout our lives. We will no longer need to preserve.

Until then, let us preserve with joy and detachment. Not with fear or anxiety or obsessiveness. Let us preserve simply because life is so good! Not because life will get worse. It is this kind of carefree preservation that allows us to relish in the good both while it is here and afterwards. It is this kind of preservation that, in so rejoicing in that which is Immortal, reminds us of our immortality. It is this type of preservation that causes the girl who forgot her camera to smile and think to herself, I don’t need to worry, I’ll see this all again someday. We don’t need to live in the moment simply because moments are passing. We live in the moment because the Goodness we find in them does not pass away. The Goodness is the immortal thing– the thing which gives us life and happiness and energy. It is the time that separates them which passes. Time is so insignificant. Time will come to an end. Time is mortal. What we long to preserve, on the other hand, will never end. So let us laugh in the face of time, for we have surpassed it. And let us enjoy those things which surpass it with us. And let us take pictures of those things. But always as a second thought, and with the knowledge that we haven’t seen anything yet.

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