Why I Resist Taking Pictures

by Emely Neu

As my eyes move up from my book, I spot a dead ladybird – wings spread wide – floating gracefully in the residue of some blue watercolour in a little jar amid shards of gold glitter. I feel a sudden urgency to fix this fragile beauty in pixels as it unfolds in front of my eyes. Perfect composition by coincidence. Snap.

Moments before writing this, I had been looking through a special box in which I keep photographs. It holds one of my grandad and Yuri Gagarin, which I borrowed for school, but never managed to return. The photograph is utterly fascinating. The assured, comforting warmth of my grandad’s eyes; the confidence of his body language – I see my whole family in him, in one single picture that captured a flimsy, fleeting moment. His presence is also echoed in me. The moment does not appear fleeting anymore. It is embodied in both the photograph and myself.

I always travel on my own and without maps. I enjoy being a stranger. I love getting lost in unknown places, being inspired by encounters with familiar-seeming strangers. And I never take photographs.

My eyes and mind have captured lonesome walks through Italy, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and England. My nose remembers the smell of each city I’ve visited. My emotional compass knows what the different seasons feel like in these different places, and my mind reminds me of what I was going through during all these journeys. My internal memory card has saved the countless amazing encounters with people along my many ways, locking away the beautiful moments.

Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night, my brain leaking hurtful memories – performing a kind of detox, I believe. And, as I try to fall back to sleep, something wonderful moves through my system – that moment when I got lost in the Lake District and ended up falling asleep in a field. That freshness of air only sensed in untouched nature; the bright, tickling rays of sunlight; that sense of freedom I felt. All of it moves through my body, and I fall asleep again. Memories like these seem to come up at random whenever I need them.

Do you remember your reaction when handed a stack of someone else’s holiday snaps to flick through? I can, but I cannot remember any of the photographs – just overexposure and emotional detachment. I can see that you, my friend, have visited the pyramids in Egypt and they do look impressive and the colour composition looks inviting and overwhelming, but I do not feel anything. I guess it’s not about me.

My resistance towards taking pictures on holiday – and in general – is a brew made of several ingredients: one pinch of “fear of death” (embodied in the passing of a moment captured in the photograph), 100g of “wanting to capture it fully in my emotional system”, 2g of “selfishness”, 50g of “saving space and time”, 150g of “spending time actually BEING in the moment” and 10g of “the weight of pictures”. This cocktail settles quite heavily in the system, as almost anything will when you include a pinch of mortal anxiety.

Do not get me wrong, for whenever I move house I bring the few pictures that make me feel at home no matter where I am. And I do love photography, but I think we all know that a moment cannot be captured in its entirety, no matter how you attempt to do so. To try to possess a moment is a human – and capitalist – need. Possess. Possess. Possess. As if possessions really can define us. The truth is, we cannot possess a thing.

Too many snaps and photographs grow heavy on me – physically and emotionally. I prefer to rely on my internal memory card, and be surprised by which moment gets thrown into my consciousness next. I understand that photographs inspire a (false) sense of security, but whenever I look at a picture of my family, I am, for a second, deeply terrified. I know I will be looking at these images very differently in a few decades’ time. And, although photographs can provide much comfort by reminding us that we are each a piece of a continuation – all made of the same fibres of momentary fragments; these traces captured with equipment can easily be wiped away. And yes, I know, memory isn’t reliable either, but that’s what brings such fragile beauty into every moment.


Photograph by Creative Commons

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