Late one evening at sea several weeks ago, an onboard photographer called me over to a window near her post. As I peered with her at a dazzling sunset of purple and orange, I told her I needed a camera. She stopped me from grabbing hers, only a few feet away, by saying that some moments are just for enjoying, not for capturing. I stood transfixed, considering her words. I wanted to disagree, but couldn’t establish my argument.
As a photographer, I have a compulsion to perfectly capture every moment; or perhaps as a perfectionist I’m compelled to photographically capture it. Either way, I tend to kick myself when I’m caught awestruck without a camera. With her offhand remark in a truly great moment, this girl shook my world.
Later that night, after a few drinks and some sleep, I forgot all about it.
Fast-forward to last Juneau (we ship people think in ports, not days). I spent the day hanging out with another friend, also a photographer. She is a charming free spirit, best described as an Auzzie Hippie. I had just helped her purchase a new laptop in an industrial neighbourhood on the outskirts of town. True to her hippie roots, she had visualized the laptop and features she wanted and found it sitting on the shelf at the price she could afford. Not a bad start to a perfect day.
The perfection lingered through lunch, when we brought fresh bagels, brie and smoked salmon to a log in the woods for an impromptu picnic. A small stream trickled by, providing enough of nature’s wala to drown out the nearby traffic. Even the smell of the wet earth was intoxicatingly fresh in this lush little piece of wilderness, so far from the steel walls and recycled air of a cruise ship. With the exception of some unfamiliar rhubarb-like plant lining the stream-bed in abundance, I might have been back home. When I spotted a tiny but brilliant flower over the Hippie’s shoulder, a single splash of purple in this deep green world, conversation moved back to the perfection of this day. I regretted aloud that neither of us had brought a camera, but the Hippie simply smiled, “Maybe it’s just for now.”
Some moments are for enjoying, not for capturing.
This time the truth hit me doubly hard, and I won’t forget it. A brilliant photographer might capture the perfection of the flower, but the rest of the scene: the smells, the sounds, the company and the mood would be lost. Holding the photo in my hand, I could recount every visible detail and believe that I was holding the moment. With no photo, even as the details fade, I am more likely to remember the day as a whole. But more importantly, even if I don’t, I know that while I was in it I spent every moment enjoying rather than capturing.
Perhaps this is a lesson in life, and not just photography. How many of us spend more time thinking, dreaming and remembering than actually living? Here’s to the wisdom of a pair of photographers and the freedom they handed me that day.