Yesterday, I did something I haven’t done nearly often enough – took a walk while on vacation. As we causally made our way along the river, I stopped at almost regular intervals to capture a snapshot of the river boats, the architecture, and sometimes even the people. It’s an experience that all of us who have travelled have found ourselves in.
At one point, I thought to myself how laughable this situation was. How many times just this day had some unassuming person taken the exact same picture of the exact same thing? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? I was completely wrong. The answer is zero.
Every moment in time is truly unique. It is a happy accident of time, light and circumstance. The photographer in me has always appreciated this, the casual consumer buried it with a succession of rapid-fire shots that would eventually fall dormant in a digital shoebox. What makes a photograph so unique are not its technical merits — to be honest there may be none of that whatsoever – but the circumstance and point of view it preserves.
For every stray tourist wandering the Rue de Seine yesterday, no one else could ever have been or ever will be in the exact same place and time as me. Perhaps most profound, however, is that no other person will ever possibly share the same story and impart the same experience to that point in time. The position of the sun, the wind, the traffic. All of these unique circumstances help to create a moment that cannot be repeated or staged. That’s a brilliant thing to consider
Our ability to paint with pixels is absolutely taken for granted. While it is easy to capture any moment at any point in time, that does not diminish their value – it buries it. Every photograph summons a story and carries us back to a specific point in time. Amazingly, even if we were not there in person, we can quickly and charitably map our own emotions back to something simple and visual. In our mind’s eye, photos never stand still, they are perpetually in motion.
Photography’s greatest gift to us all is a lapse in time – to perfectly revisit ourselves.