The rest of the afternoon there were many replays of this drama. The wedding ceremony concluded with the groom kissing the bride, nervously and awkwardly, but at the multiple photographers’ insistence they had to reenact the scene a few times more. Toasts had to be repeated, as were some witty remarks by the groom’s cousin, all at the behest of the avid photographers. I thought I detected a slight look of relief on the couple’s face as their car finally took them away from the guests – and the photographers.
No doubt the popularity of social media has heightened the trend. No private or social event goes unrecorded and then promptly reported in Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or SnapChat. Every birthday cake, wedding dress and family reunion is duly splashed in multiple photographs of dubious focus and dismal composition. Probably bakers are baking cakes, designers are sketching dresses and hosts are planning parties with the resulting photos firmly in mind.
Why does one take photos? You take a photo to aid your recall. You take a photo of your child so that you can look at it years later and remember how she looked as a baby. You take photos of your sunset gondola ride, for you love to think of your glorious summer in Venice even while you are freezing in Fargo or Fairbanks. The album brings back charming memories.
Is this what is spurring the tendency to shoot and publish virtually everything?
At least a part of the answer lies in the vast number of photographs that center on the photographer or the source. Aside from the scourge of selfies, which are nearly always an eyesore, many pictures are of I-and-the-Tajmahal variety that leave little doubt which of the two objects is truly important. Perhaps we all crave a measure of immortality, and leaving a visual imprint on Facebook pages is some people’s way to grope toward that end.
But there is a price for this.
Nothing detracted or even distracted from my joyous discovery of a work by a favorite painter or my leisurely absorption of it. Snapping it on my phone was a separate, subsequent act that let me see a little more of it. Seeing and recording were discrete actions, distinct in time and purpose. Shooting did not take away from a ‘mindful’ immersion in the painting itself.
Looking back, it makes me conscious of what we lose when we start snapping photos the moment we see something interesting: we really don’t see what sustained seeing alone lets us see.