That was the day that my son, Adam, graduated from Middlebury College. The commencement speaker, Jonathan Safran Foer, spoke on the topic of personal technologies and how they are diminishing us.
There was a particular part of his speech, however, that I've been thinking about and has been nagging me ever since.
Foer noted that there are two kinds of people, Eyewitnesses and Archivists.
Archivists are gadget-carrying people: cameras, cell phones, video devices... They like to record the moment to save for future enjoyment.
Eyewitnesses are just that. They take away nothing physically recorded.
The disturbing part for me was his claim that Eyewitnesses are more fully present and have more valuable memories of an event than Archivists, who are less present and whose attention is divided by taking pictures of the event.
In case you're wondering, I am an Archivist. Always have been, always will be. Have I been less present because of my camera? Foer painted a pretty convincing argument, but was it necessarily true for me?
A year and a half later, I would like to present my view, which is just the opposite. I feel being a photographer makes me MORE present, MORE aware of what is going on.
To illustrate my point, I'd like to show you photos that I took at the waterfront in Burlington this fall.
When we arrived at sunset, it was cold and windy and foreboding. There was really no sunset, which was the reason we were there in the first place.
I believe a photographer experiences MORE and sees MORE.
Instead of standing in one place and seeing the moment from one perspective, I walked back across the parking lot and viewed the lake from farther away. Wow! How beautiful and different than the first picture.
Then in began to rain, so we sat in the car for a few minutes. I was able to capture this unique picture just moments before my husband turned on the windshield wipers so we could "see" better.
The rain stopped, but it was getting darker. The clouds were magnificent and the beam of the lighthouse stood out in the darkness.
As darkness crept in, the lights illuminated the pier, inviting us to linger a little longer.
A wider lens and a lower perspective gave me this very different picture.
We very easily could have left when we saw the lack of color in the sky, or when the rain began or when it got dark. Having my camera and wanting to capture the beauty of the moment, sunset or no sunset, encouraged me to appreciate the evening for what it was.
The same reasoning applies to other moments in life.
As I'm riding in the car, cruising down a country road on my bike, watching my kids play sports or pulling weeds in my backyard,
I feel I am MORE present because I am always seeing life as if I had a camera in my hands (wishing that I did).
Being a photographer makes me notice what is going on in my life.
It makes me MORE mindful.
How beautiful was my cat coming to greet me in the garden?
Looking at this makes me feel really happy!
So does this one!
The act of taking a picture can be joyful in itself.
I can still hear the sound of the waterfall and the birds as we headed into the horseshoe at Niagara Falls.
How perfect was this sunset over Rockville?
To me, this picture really captures the presence of the saxophone professor during rehearsal before last weekend's concert.
Can you hear the wonderful music that is being played?
And feel the "high" after the performance?
As a parent, I will always remember the smile on Annie's face as she walks to the car when we pick her up at her dorm. I don't really need a picture to remember this, but it's really nice to have!
So I can finally put Jonathan Safran Foer's nagging theory to rest
because, at least for me,
I know it's not true.