Two days ago I arrived in Washington state and made my way down to the Pike Place market. There was a horde of tourists with iPhones out, recording as men threw fish through the crowded area. After a lot of shouting and commotion, one of the men asked "Do any of you actually want to buy a fish?" No one stepped forward or said anything, just continued recording every frame as if that could somehow capture the essence of downtown Seattle.
It's almost crippling, the way we believe we can absorb everything we experience just by holding our phones or cameras out to the world. As a photographer myself, I know how easy it is to see anything remotely spectacular and immediately pull out my camera and take as many pictures as I can. The frustrating thing is that this hinders the ability to remember an experience. All you're left with is a generic image, one that probably thousands of people have taken before you. The world isn't meant to be experienced this way.
To try and combat my habit of over-documentation, I've returned to shooting on 35mm film. I find myself considering the photos I take more seriously since film is limited and you have to be conscientious to not waste frames. Because of this, I've found that the subject matter I shoot is different. Rather than mindlessly photographing destinations just to keep a record, I spend a lot of time just staring through the viewfinder of my camera without shooting a single frame. And when I do take a photo, it's usually of something easily missed in the big picture — light falling through trees onto the floor of a parking garage, or people gathered on the observation deck of the space needle pointing out across the Puget Sound. These things feel denser to me, as if they carry more weight. Although we hardly ever realize it, these are the fragments of a moment that shape our memories. The Seattle skyline is always going to be the Seattle skyline, give or take a few buildings. But the people crowded around the edges, faces wrinkled or painted on, bearing tattoos or donning hats or sunglasses and gazing out over the city, they’ll be gone in moments. Humans exist in constant motion. Every exhale signifies the consumption of time, an organic moment lost to the act of living.
I would encourage everyone to try and hold on to the present a little more. Stop looking at every sight through a lens and try closing your eyes. Every place you go, the air tastes, feels, and smells different. We often don’t notice details like this because we get lost in the visuals. But I guarantee that if you put your cameras away and instead inhale the foreign air, each place you travel will stay with you long after you’ve left.