girl, interrupted

image taken somewhere around 25,000 feet

I was recently reading an article about a study by Fairfield University regarding picture taking and memory. The study introduced the idea that taking photos can interrupt the brains process of remembering. This "photo-taking impairment effect" is characterized by taking more pictures but remembering fewer details. It's like "outsourcing your memory to a camera."

While there are a few caveats which I will get to in a moment, it got me thinking about my own picture taking and the sheer volume of photos I take...especially with my phone. I realized that I too had fallen victim to this memory interruption. Once upon a time I absorbed moments more completely...sure there have always been distractions, but never one I held in my hand. I find that when I put the phone down my senses become far more acute and I am experiencing moments on a more visceral level which effects how clearly I remember them. It seems like I've been trusting my camera phone to do that for me. I didn't think about remembering or even experiencing...I thought about getting the right light, focusing, looking for a place to prop my phone etc. I was blocking my own brain from truly experiencing anything. This very fact was crystallized for me last week at my niece's graduation. It took place at sunset outdoors and at the end there were fireworks. I was trying my level best to get a good picture until my husband whispered to me..."they never look as good in pictures as they do in real life." I quickly put my camera down, but it was too late...they were done.

The research scientist at the university brought up the idea that photographs are less memories and more like retrieval clues. She encourages the idea of "mindful photography" which I think could be something each of us determines individually. Back to those caveats...after reading the study I thought it should have addressed the fact that not all picture taking is meant to preserve a memory...sometimes its purpose is to evoke emotion or simply artistic in nature. I also think familiarity with the process makes a huge difference.  For example...when I'm back home in LA and I drive to the beach I am able to experience everything about that drive...the sights, the smells everything, and I think it's directly related to the fact that I know my route so well I could drive it in my sleep. That cannot be said for the times I am dependent upon my GPS. I am focused so heavily on turning right or left in 100 yards or making sure I don't miss my exit that I couldn't tell you a single thing about the drive other than thank God I made it. I think the same can be said for good photographers...they don't need to focus so heavily on their technique which frees them up to experience moments more fully.

 For me, practicing "mindful photography" means allowing myself to experience first and record second. If this means missing a few pictures or less than stellar pictures, I'm okay with that. If it means having nothing to Instagram, I'm okay with that too. I also think the very idea of this should spark a conversation about storytelling. A picture is wonderful but without the details, the story...it's just an image. That's why scrapbooking is so valuable to me...it allows me to tell a broader story...a deeper more colorful story complete with words and pictures.


Anonymous said...

I love this post.

rhonda nickol said...

What a wonderful post France and I have been trying to put my camera down and enjoy the moments too. Loved your picture!

Kelly said...

it always seems to me that i remember most fully the days on which my camera remained in my bag. there was one christmas day a few years back on which i did not take one photo. it was a lovely day and i scribbled down every little detail i could recall into my journal late that night. it is still one of my favourite christmases to date. i, too, love this post.

Ginny said...

I must have just read the same article, came across it I think yesterday. Funny.

I know when I go places like museums, I will snap pictures of what I'm seeing & even the sign. My plan is to go back and read the signs better from home, but I hardly ever do.

I also notice with my girls dance. If the competition allows cameras, I barely ever can give them input on how they did. I'm so worried about getting the photo or keeping them in the frame when taping. I enjoy their dancing much more when cameras aren't allowed, lol.

The article & your post really make you start thinking even more about enjoying the moment instead of always trying to capture it.