As you can gather from the title of this post, I hate pictures.
I should be clearer. I don’t hate photography. I actually love taking my DSLR and iPhone cameras with me when I go on adventures. I love scrolling through Facebook and Instagram to see what kind of hijinks my friends are getting themselves into. I even have an Instagram page where I post my own photos: some are more casual and some I take far too seriously by pairing them with hokey song lyrics or half-thoughtful captions from this wandering mind of mine. No, these types of photography are fantastic. Please continue putting your pictures on the Internet so I can follow your lives.
What I really hate are pictures of myself. Not just selfies, either; really any photograph of my own face, even those that I happen to like, make my stomach churn just a little bit.
“Ah shoot, my hair is blowing around.”
“Can everyone see that dopey look on my face, or is it just me?”
“I look like I just slammed 10 cheeseburgers with that triple chin.”
I think half of the reasons I feel this way stem from self-esteem issues. But those are boring. We all have them, and 95% of the negative things we think about the way we look are untrue and, more importantly, unfair. So let’s not give these lies any more words than necessary, yeah?
The other half of the reasons for my photo anxiety are drawn from the healthy well of cynicism I’ve been constructing and pouring into since I was old enough to even understand what the word ‘cynicism’ even meant. In fact, I’m still probably very wrong. But I digress: this well, as I said, is healthy in volume, a deep pool of weighty thought and negative stereotypes, filled up with thoughts like, “Nice selfie ,unknown person, you must feel really good about yourself to be sending that to people who already know what you look like.” I say ‘unknown person’ there as if I haven’t thought that about even the best of my friends.But that would be a lie. There are other thoughts which aid in the filling of said metaphorical well, but we’ll stick with the theme of photography or, as is probably more applicable, self-love. I think – actually, I don’t think; I know this to be true – I’m afraid that if I buy into the idea that feeling good about yourself for a little while is okay, I’ll become a vapid, empty narcissist. A bit extreme? Probably, but that’s where my mind jumps in these situations.
I’m rambling a bit, so forgive the lack of transition as I try get where I’m going:
My negative feelings about pictures of myself, born of self-esteem, cynicism and fear, tend to come out when I’m taking photos of others, something I deeply enjoy.
As most of you may know (and as the rest of you are about to be reminded/find out), I’m currently in Europe taking part in an internship and study program through my university. As a college kid with wanderlust and free weekends, I’ve done a bit of traveling since I arrived in May. And this weekend, a few of my flat mates and friends decided to take a weekend trip to Edinburgh (Scotland, for all you geographically challenged) as a break from all our hard work and study. Don’t laugh; it’s true. Some of us do work very hard…
Maybe not all. But some.
Over the course of a wonderful weekend, we decided to go on a hike to Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, one of Edinburgh’s more popular tourist destinations. It was something to which I’d been really looking forward. As a Missouri boy in London, my heart has been aching for hills and hikes for some time now. In case you didn’t know, London isn’t the most nature-friendly area in the world.
I brought my Canon (DSLR) with me on the trip…but only after some convincing from a friend.
You see, in my two months of living in Europe (it’s a little odd to write), I’d broken out my lovely Canon Rebel T5i a grand total of two times. Most of my photography is done on my iPhone, a piece of technology that would be amazing without it’s mind-boggling camera. I’ve taken some great photos on my phone, but I can see the care in my own work a little bit more when I break out the DSLR. But lugging that thing around is hard, you know? I’ve got two lenses and a carrying bag and that gets heavy (please don’t stop reading), so why not just accept that my iPhone camera is perfectly fine and approximately 99% easier to carry? So usually that’s what ends up happening. I’ve lived in Europe for two months, been to four different countries and used my camera twice. I didn’t even bring it on my other international journeys, so why bring it to Scotland right? That’s just another bag to carry around and excuses, excuses, excuses.
But after some gentle nudging from a friend (“It’s beautiful here!” “It’s not raining!”), I decided I would ignore my lazy impulses and bring the thing.
Without that nudge, I would’ve made a horrible mistake. So thank you, friend. You know who you are.
Back to the hike: As we trudged up the surprisingly steep hill, a few of my friends offered to carry my burden and use it to take pictures of me *gasp* in the process. I had two responses: one internal; one external.
External: Yeah, sure. Why not? After all, my mom might never forgive me if I went to Scotland and came back without at least one picture of myself. I’ll just get one half serious one and get it out of the way.
Internal: Yeah, no thank you. “I prefer to be behind the camera,” I believe I said a few times. In fact, I bristled at the thought of any non-ironic picture that might be taken of me.
So you may be asking, “Yo, Josh, when does this post get less depressing and aimless, because you’re seriously bumming me out.” Relax. I’m about there.
After our hike, I spent a good portion of the evening scrolling through the day’s photos, including those taken by everyone else. And as I did, I couldn’t stop the smiles from continually forming on my slightly sunburnt face. They came so frequent that I probably ended up looking like the Mad Hatter staring at my camera screen.
It was somewhere in that time that it hit me: This moment wouldn’t exist if not for me bringing my camera.
Yeah, I’d have photos on my phone that I could throw online. And I could easily justify not bringing my camera even after all the excuses I mentioned earlier. I’d probably just tell myself some hackneyed thought about wanting to experience life instead of trying to capture it on a screen. I know, it sounds stupid, pretentious and half-hearted. But the simple act of me deciding to haul my camera bag along encouraged me to take lots of photos and to take them frequently. Like I said, I feel like I’m a bit more invested when it comes to my Canon.
And captured within those photos are some beautiful moments: beautiful moments filled with beautiful people being fun, stupid, silly and generally awed by the world around us and all its glory. And here’s the real kicker: these are moments that I will share with only these people, friends I’ve known for all of a few weeks.
No one else in my life will be able to share those moments with me; my family; my friends back home who I’ve known for much, much longer; mentors and acquaintances that I will know long after this London experience has ended. Less than .01% of my life – yes, I checked – has been spent with these people, a percentage that will shrink smaller as we grow older and, perhaps, never see each other again. At least, I might not. Y’all go to school with each other.
Count yourselves very lucky.
And yet these photos, these moments I almost missed capturing because I was lazy or afraid someone might try to get a photo of or with me, will always draw me back; back to Scotland; back to Sunday, July 26, 2015; back to them. Every once in a while, I’ll scroll through my photos on Facebook looking for another picture to show someone else and see these photos. I’ll wonder where my friends are and how they’re doing. I’ll look at these photos years from now and think of our weekend trip to Scotland together. I’ll tell my kids (God-willing) about my adventures and show them my photographs with these virtual strangers, adventures that forever connect us in the great big messy story of life.
Maybe I’m romanticizing too much. Maybe I’m assigning significance to something that isn’t all that significant. And maybe I feel deeper about this trip and these people than any of them do. If that’s the case, then so be it. Something in me changed this weekend. My cynicism well dried up a little bit, and my heart grew enough to make room for seven people who will always share these significant moments with me. I love these crazy strangers, now my friends, to the top of Arthur’s Seat and back. And it absolutely breaks my heart to think that my time with them is so short and quickly coming to an end.
So let this be my encouragement to all of you who may share my photo anxiety or fear of narcissism or have a cynicism well of your own: Do what makes you uncomfortable. Get pictures and capture moments with anyone you adventure with, and be very flexible with your definition of adventure. Yes, you have to be in said pictures, at least for a few. Smile in some; make a dumb face in others; have fun in all of them. And don’t you dare let anxiety or the fear of too much self-love stop you from capturing moments that may become more special to you than you think appropriate because, “I really don’t know these people that well.” Screw that feeling. It sucks. Draw from that cynicism well and dump that toxic water somewhere where you can’t drink it anymore. It’s not good for you, and you know it.
Make room in your heart for people you barely know and be willing to share in these moments with them.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
I’m pretty sure he nailed it.
So, yeah, this post wasn’t really about me hating pictures. It was messy and emotional and fueled by a recency bias. But I have to believe the things I’m feeling are borne from some sort of truth or significance, even if I don’t know why they were sparked by a few hours in Scotland. And anyway, life is a mess sometimes (ha! All the time.) So why shouldn’t some of our retellings reflect that?
So thanks again for nudging me to bring my camera, friend. I owe you a drink.