Video Clip Explores Age Old Conundrum Of Photographers–Do We Really Only Experience Present Time As An Anticipated Memory?

Sep 10, 2014

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer based in Hawi, Hawaii. You can follow her Twitter here and her personal life here.

Video Clip Explores Age Old Conundrum Of Photographers–Do We Really Only Experience Present Time As An Anticipated Memory?

Sep 10, 2014

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer based in Hawi, Hawaii. You can follow her Twitter here and her personal life here.

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As a photographer, I’ve always just kind of assumed the duties of turning the present moment into the past without ever considering the downfalls of that or, rather, without ever even realizing there were downfalls in the first place. It’s just who I am. I photograph people, smiles, laughter, cries, love, rebellion… I photograph moments, capture time at its most powerful junctures all in the name of preserving that specific instant for future reference. After all, isn’t that what photographers are supposed to do? We capture important moments, how could that be a bad thing?


Then I happened across ‘The Instagram Generation’, a short, philosophical performance film, which opens up with a statement that, admittedly, cut right through to my core as it somewhat covertly questioned the very existence I have come to love as a cameraman…

“The ‘Instagram Generation’ now experiences the present as an anticipated memory.”

YouTube video

Let me start by saying, I rarely use Instagram. I don’t feel like I need to photograph my breakfast every morning, nor do I require myself to document and share how bored I am waiting in the holding room at the doctor’s office, but I am always looking for photographs. Even when I don’t have a camera. In an effort completely out of my control, my eyes and brain constantly see the world as a series of photo opportunities, whether I have a camera in my hand or not.

So, yes, despite my reluctance to adapt Instagram into my routine, I most certainly do experience the present as an anticipated memory.  This is not a quality unique to me. Most photographers are this way and, in my own biased opinion, all photographers should at least practice the trait on occasion.

The debate here, and also the part that sent me off into a moment of introspection, is the possibility that we could somehow be missing the actual experience of living in the moment because we are too busy anticipating how we can preserve it as a photograph–a tangible memory. And, furthermore, what is the actual impact doing so is having on our lives?

If I were asked to detail some of the finer experiences in my life, I’d probably instinctively come back with an answer about how I was able to get the shot, not what I was doing there in the first place. Not because I don’t remember the experience or don’t feel like I was truly a part of it, I have those memories, too. It’s just that, for me personally, documenting it is a large part of what created the joy that surrounded the moment. To me, that’s okay. Actually, that is choice. As the host of the Shots Of Awe clip, Jason Silva, explains, it’s as though I have the luxury of experiencing the same moment from two different perspectives.

“We’re living in two different realities at the same time. It’s what Daniel Kahneman used to refer to as the experiencing self and the remembering self and they’re working in concert. They’re saying, be happy for this moment, for this moment is your life, but guess what? This moment is going to be gone like this and all you’re going to have left is that photo filter vintage photograph. All you’re going to have left is how you chose to remember this moment so you’re given a pen. You’re given a chance to decide how this moment will be remembered. We all become artists, we all become architects of our mental narratives, of our historical digital paper-trail. We decide who we are. We’re building maps, and those maps are subjective. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. … I think it liberates our desire to be artists. “

Now, I ask you the same thing I asked myself: Is your compulsive act of photographing moments hindering your ability to reflect or does it work in a more helpful way by allowing you to shape your memories? Leave us a comment with your opinion and insights below!

[ via Huffington Post ]

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Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer based in Hawi, Hawaii. You can follow her Twitter here and her personal life here.

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3 responses to “Video Clip Explores Age Old Conundrum Of Photographers–Do We Really Only Experience Present Time As An Anticipated Memory?”

  1. Renato Murakami Avatar
    Renato Murakami

    I think it’s a bit of a horrible prospect to be tied to such a limited definition of “living life”. Closer to dystopia.
    Admitedly, I’m also not of the Instagram generation… I have an account which I basically never used.

    But the idea doesn’t have to be limited to one app/service… it can simply be expanded to all social networks. If you were to be considered a social media addict in genuine terms, I think the idea that you might anticipate your every move to create a “picture perfect” social account (or life) is plausible, though I doubt too many people would behave that way (hopefully).
    It isn’t too far from the discussion about social networks being a highly curated artificial version of yourself.

    The problem I see with the idea, setting aside the bs inspirational speech video crap that I’m frankly tired of, is the same lots of celebrities have been facing for a long long time now: you build your daily life not in a way that it makes you happy, but more to create this artificial concept of happiness for others to see. It’s a mask, artificial projection, judgemental view, submissive by nature and it goes towards stereotypes. It doesn’t accept errors, mistakes or problems as part of life, you end up avoiding those instead of learning from them, and it creates stresses, anxiety and other emotions that might make your life a living hell.

    Social networks addicts are also social network slaves. It interferes with everything, it’s intrusive and invasive for others, and your mood becomes highly dependant on artificially generated numbers and statistics that more often than not, don’t do a good job in reflecting reality by themselves.
    Why would you voluntarily be dependant on likes or shares to view a given moment of your life as “happy”, “successful” or whatever?

    I’ve gone a bit on a tangent here, let me get back.

    Anticipated memory as present in a photographer’s eye – I also think it’s an important skill to hone and train over time. But I’d disagree that it has to be something that is always on. And I’d argue that it’s straight harmful to have it as always on.

    The argument proposed seems to encompass a bit more than this, as in not only images but overall life experiences. But particularly for photographers, if you can’t let go of that constant search for images, you end up passing lots of things… because it is, after all, about focus.

    Usually, when I find myself in a situation where I’ll start focusing on photography – professional shoots aside – I’ll warn friends or family that are with me. Because while focusing on photos, I’ll disregard most other things… I won’t pay close attention to conversations, won’t elaborate much on replies, will easily loose track of time, etc. I heard some photographers saying they go even further than that, disregarding their own safety, becoming almost deaf, or forgetting everything just to catch that photo.

    Some scientific researches lately have been saying that humans in general aren’t very good at multitasking, no matter how much we heard about the concept. We basically can be very good while focusing on a single thing, or perform badly at multiple stuff. I tend to agree with that.

    Finally, I think the guy in the video is missing a fundamental part of the argument. Yes, the present, the moment is ephemeral, we are only left with memories and such and such. But a memory and how we shape it is essencially different from anticipating a moment so it looks good in a digital photo, or in a digital transcription of the moment.

    Should we shape and define every key moment in life as planned in anticipation? What happened to the wonderful moments that happened without planning? What about the very strong benefits of improvisation and going with the moment? Should we define the best images we experienced only through the mechanics of a camera? Is it absolutely necessary that every moment you consider important in your life to be captured as a photo or something else, shared or not?
    I don’t think so.

    There’s something to be said about picturing a moment in your life, planning it, living as anticipated memory, and then it becoming true, shure. But not as a permanent and constant thing. Because I can only think of one definition for a life in which everything goes as planned: boring.

    1. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
      Tiffany Mueller

      RE: “I can only think of one definition for a life in which everything goes as planned: boring.” //Really well said, Renato. :)

      I think you are right, not every moment needs to be captured. But, as far as the “looking for photos” mode always being on, I’m not entirely convinced it is controlled by some of us. I would consider it to be an innate quality in some, a habit in others, and just a practice by most, but those for whom the quality is innate, it’s just part of their makeup as a living being–whether it is healthy or not is another question…

      Well thought out response, Renato. Thanks for opening up an interesting discussion!

  2. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    If I’m concentrating on angles, lighting, ISO, aperture, etc. there’s a good chance I’m not really listening/watching/feeling what’s going on as if I didn’t have my camera. That’s why when I’m “off duty” I rarely take photos. My fiance complains that I don’t take many photos at parties or on vacations, but for me that’s the whole point of a vacation. Not taking photos. I do that enough the rest of my life.

    Also, people often mistakenly think of cameras as extensions of the eyes, but that’s not really accurate. Cameras are an extension of memory.