The Art of Faux-tography

A few weeks ago I was driving my daughter to school, and in between belting out Lady Gaga and talking about our busy day ahead, Olivia and I simultaneously had the air sucked right out of our lungs.

We’d just driven down our little stretch of Mission Canyon, and as we approached the Mission and looked out over the Rose Garden to the ocean in the distance, we witnessed the most spectacular morning light dancing on billowy periwinkle clouds, it made goosebumps rise on my arms.

The light’s reflection in the ocean below looked like a kaleidoscope shimmering on smooth gray glass.

In Santa Barbara beauty wraps its big, warm arms around us every day, so you’d think we’d be immune to it, but my daughter and I were so stunned, the only word to emerge from our mouths was a collective, “Woooowwwwww.”

My immediate reaction was to reach for my camera phone. It was instinctual, automatic—as if there were no other way to enjoy this moment without documenting it. I fumbled for my purse, but the logistics of driving prevented me from taking a picture. Instead I was forced to enjoy the moment during the moment, rather than snapping it for posterity. As a result, I was able to share it with the beautiful person in the backseat—something we could both store deep in our memory banks instead of somewhere on my camera’s memory card.

What happened next though, is what happens all too often.

After I dropped Olivia off at school, I got in my car again—this time to head to the gym. It was one of those mornings Mother Nature was clearly in the mood to show off. This time she sent a brilliant rainbow arching right over the mission. Its ROYGBIV perfectly framed the Spanish architecture, making it look like it belonged on the set of the Wizard of Oz.

It was spectacular. So spectacular, in fact, this is what I saw: the Range Rover in front of me blocking traffic in the intersection so the driver could poke his camera phone out his sunroof to take a picture. A woman walking along the Rose Garden pushing her double-stroller, digging in her diaper bag to get her camera out, missing the moment with her children. Two cars almost colliding as they both illegally pulled over into the bike lane so each driver could take a picture.

My IPhone was sitting in the passenger seat next to me so I could easily pick it up and take a picture out my car window. I was so dismayed by what I saw though, I knew I didn’t want to be one of those people. I also knew I wasn’t at the proper angle to create a memorable photograph, nor did I have a camera that would do it justice.

STILL, the compulsion to capture the moment consumed me like it consumed the others. In a matter of seconds I caved, illegally pulling into the bike lane like the other yahoos.

As I zipped down my window and snapped a few images, I knew the pictures were crap before I even looked at them. I spent so much time trying to zoom in and out to get a good composition, for which one did not exist from where I was sitting in my car, that I missed the peak of the color. By the time I’d shot off three frames, the light had faded.

Photo of a rainbow over the Mission in Santa Barbara, CA

My crappy picture of a rainbow over the Mission

I could only laugh at myself for representing the absurdity of what photography has become.

Technology has created such easy access to the medium that we are all now photographers, or more accurately, faux-tographers. Most of us do not know an F-stop from a truck stop. Nor do we know shutter speeds, proper lighting or good composition. Most of us never learned the art of photography. We just know we have the ability to take pictures and we love doing it (myself included).

It made me wonder, “What is it about photography that is so powerful that it makes us lose our common sense?” Why are we so compelled to take pictures?

This may sound like a funny question coming from somebody who has lived in the world of photography for more than two decades, but I’m not talking about professional photography. I’m talking about all of us with camera phones and PhD (Push Here Dummy) cameras.

This is what I surmised:

Photography is about sharing. Like everybody else at the Mission that morning, I wanted to share my view of the rainbow with others…with you…with my family…with my friends. I wanted everybody to experience the beautiful moment that I had just experienced. Words could not remotely come close to how striking it was.

• Photography is about capturing, stealing, owning a moment—holding onto a piece of time forever.

• Photography makes it real to us. It proves it happened.

• Photography allows us to remember, to look back and recall an exact moment in time. While our memories may fade, our photographs provide a powerful beacon of recognition.

Photography enables us to be sentimental, to linger, to celebrate events and people in our lives. Just think about all the family photo albums that adorn our coffee tables and bookshelves.

__________

Before digital cameras (in all their various forms), most people were careful and methodical about taking pictures. After all, it cost money to buy film and have it processed. And it took time and effort to drop the film off and pick it up once it was processed.

Now, after we purchase our cameras, it’s essentially free, and it’s effortless to shoot a bazillion photographs. And as we all know, if we take enough pictures, eventually we’re bound to at least get one good image.

While I may chuckle and sneer at what photography has turned into, I’m right there will all the rest of you, clicking away, sharing away and loving it. But I never forget there’s a big difference between photography and faux-tography.

__________

Because I hate to only share a crappy picture on my blog with you, allow me to end this post with a few classic images created by a real photographer (one, with whom you know by now, I’m quite smitten).

Photo of gondolas reflected in the Grand Canal of Venice, Italy

Gondolas reflected in Venice, Italy

Photo of a grandfather and grandson at a market in Xian, China

A Grandfather and his sleeping grandchild at a market in Xian, China

Photo of a South African Woman

A Christian Zionist woman holding the new flag of South Africa in Soweto during a rally for Nelson Mandela

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17 thoughts on “The Art of Faux-tography

  1. Pingback: What becomes a blogger most? « Deborah Batterman

  2. Becky – reading this post I’m reminded of one premise of the book Camera Lucida – every photo is a picture of a dying event. This applies especially to all the Faux-tographers..Everyone is also a movie maker because they can shoot video. The art is the magic, the composition is the music. I loved your way of describing photo-mania!

  3. Becky, that little boy sleeping on his grandfather’s arms is now one of my most favorite photographs. Thank you for sharing it. Most likely I never would have seen it had you not posted it. And now that I have seen it, I hope I never forget it.

    Photographs speak to us. They evoke something within us. When I see a shot like that little boy, I imagine a whole world around him. Jeffrey did, as usual, an amazing job. I can hear the rush of the crowd. I can sense the trust in that little boy, to be so calm with his grandfather. I can see the love and ease with which the grandfather props him up, and I wonder if I was ever like that, so trusting as a child? Or if I will ever be like that, should I be blessed with grandchildren some day. An entire story — created in my mind from one single image.

    Perhaps this is why, then, so many of us faux-tographers shoot the beauty or the unexpected in life. We know what it means to us, and we want others to gain the benefit of those feelings. Thank you for your picture (you are too hard on yourself!) of the rainbow.

    • Melissa, I love the image of the little boy sleeping too. It has always been one of my favorites because it says so much in one frame. And yes, photography is about capturing the beauty of the unexpected. That’s a great way to put it. I can only imagine all the beautiful moments you capture with your family!

  4. Two things come to mind (well, more than two, but I’ll limit myself). Many years ago I was with a dear friend on a beach in California, late in the day. Two teenage girls were riding horses, bareback. I took a photo, only later to discover that the film in my camera (remember those days?) had not advanced. So this very powerful image is forever imprinted in memory, if not in a tangible photo I can retrieve. The other ‘photo op’ which I did record was a double rainbow up at Machu Picchu. You’re so right about the compulsion to capture the moment — now that the possibility is always with us. And I so agree with you re: the suggestion of where does that leave imagination?

    • Wow, a double rainbow over Machu Picchu? Now that sounds like a beautiful exclamation point to your adventure.

      I often have to reel myself in with my camera, especially when I’m “taking pictures so Olivia will remember it when she’s older.” She’d probably like to remember her mom being fully present in the moment with her rather than having a snappy of what she was doing when she was a kid. As with all things in life, it’s all about balance.

  5. “Wooowwwww” is the word that emerged from my mouth also, after seeing this picture. Beautiful, this is what I call, “Nature at its best!” .
    Just like you did this time, most of the picture I post on my blog are taken by my cell phone’s camera. It’s the moment that, makes everything look beautiful. So we must capture it, in whatever way possible. Now I am also spending some time clicking photographs, but without knowing anything about photography. 🙂 Thanks for helping me realize that, I am a faux-tographer. 🙂
    As always all photographs at the end of this post are so beautiful. These photographs really show the difference between a real photographer & faux-tographer.
    Becky I mentioned your blog on my latest post on awards, check it in your time. 🙂

  6. Fellow faux- yahoo here. On September 11 last year our church had a special evening service and meal for local firefighters and law enforcement. When we arrived at church we saw the usual scene of the beautiful lawn and building with but with bright red firetrucks and police vehicles in the foreground. It was a little before six and the sky was a fading soft blue. It had rained a little that afternoon. In the sky beyond the church was one of the most beautiful rainbows we had ever seen. A beautiful rainbow arching over a service to honor our local heroes. I almost cried. My daughter did try to capture it with her phone. I will NEVER forget it. Excellent post.

  7. I so loved this post, Becky–and it’s because you are so right about us wanting to capture something for posterity rather than just being present in the moment and enjoying it for our own pleasure. The funny thing about digital cameras and computers is that we take all these photographs and load them into our computers and then never look at them again! I kind of miss the old days of taking the roll of film in to be developed and having to wait to see what you got. I miss filling up the pages of the photos albums, too! Anyway, great writing as always–I so enjoy your perspective on life.

    • Thanks, Jessica. I am a fan of prints and photo albums too, but have most of my images sitting on my computer. I always tell myself that some day I’ll create photo books or make prints for an album, but like most things, it’s about time. It’s kind of ironic how much time goes into taking pictures, not to have them in the end form we love most. As always, thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment!

  8. It was so good to see you at class today Becky! How exciting you are in the two magazines. Congratulations!!!
    I know what you were trying to achieve in your mission photo. It must have been a magical sight indeed! The fact that you and Olivia shared the harbor photo was a gift for you two to share always!
    Take care,
    Ann

    • Great to see you too, Anne! It’s fun to see things rolling. I’m most excited about our upcoming Steve Jobs ebook, which should be launching before spring.

      And yes, it was a magical SB morning, and thrilling to share it with Olivia.

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