Stop Trying to Capture the Moment

At the same time that I curse myself for not having more images to post on this here blog I rant and rave inwardly at the over-prevalence of picture taking.

This is one reason I will likely make a horrible travel blogger. I keep refusing to take out my camera (cell or otherwise). I feel guilty enough for pulling out my mini-computer or notebook to jot a note or two. Until they come up with an eyesight camera, I am resigned to capturing what I can with my own little eye peeps and trying to imprint my impressions with words.

My hesitation and avoidance of avid photographic evidence gathering is very apparently not shared by many to most others. This is a shame — a disservice to self and society.

What do we want? Pictures! (?!)

From concerts to sporting events, dinner tables to coffee shops, the OWS protests to every random street corner, cameras are everywhere. In any type of “newsworthy” situation, (at least in my estimation) every potentially good, iconic shot is ruined with the self-awareness of the participants that they are on camera– if not the twenty hands holding up cameras or phones in the background.

Under the pressure of trying to capture the moment we have lost the ability to actually be in and of the moment.

I was ruminating on this when I saw this article on Gawker (of all places?!) where the author argues that in potentially hazardous or ethically charged situations, when we get out our cameras to document, we go from bystander to observer — effectively removing ourselves from the situation. The camera obliterates any moral obligation to intervene or actually be a part of what is happening.

I’ll go one step further and say that we are removing ourselves from life constantly by trying to document instead of live. The change to an instagram-saturated society has made many lose the ability to participate and appreciate in a larger sense.

Ground Zero

In my return to NYC over the winter I went to the 9/11 memorial. It was not a place that I would have chosen to go had a visiting friend not gotten tickets. So down we went, through security line after metal detector after habitrail turn and finally we were blinking into the sun reflecting out of the first black, flowing, square hole.

I had two main reactions: revered sadness… and shocked, annoyed sadness.

If you walk into that space, under the watchful eyes of I’m sure numerous human eyes and hundreds of cameras in the name of protecting what it symbolizes, past the pictures of the events of 2001, the written recollections of survivors, the reminders everywhere of where you are standing, how can you not be moved into stoic silence and reflection?

Apparently it is possible.

I would have thought that it would go without saying that maybe this was not the place for trouisty photographs to be taken. Yet there was no sign to say: “Please, to honor the memory of those that died here and their survivors, refrain from posting to Facebook and Twitter until you leave the memorial.” So people just did as they do:

Here is a man jabbering away on his phone with dinner plans that simply can not wait.

A woman tosses her purse onto the plates holding the names of the dead — firefighters actually — to rummage around for, it turns out, her camera. She was joined by at least three others on my walk who found the markers convenient places to stash their stuff for a while.

A family gathers at the corner of one of the reflecting pools, grinning together in I ♥ NY shirts, capturing for all time their gayety on hallowed ground. Oh yes, this also occurred many more times than once.

I thought I was at a loss for words when faced with walls of water. I was stupefied further by the actions of my fellow visitors.

I hate to be so overly drippy dramatic. I might feel differently when it is a park where there aren’t such extreme measures in the name of “safety” and it isn’t treated like the confines of a cemetery/museum. For now, people are visiting that spot only because it is a memorial of the catastrophic event that happened.

People died there in a most horrible and shocking way. When you visit the site, you are standing on graves.

If you cannot be moved, if you cannot stop to be contemplative, thankful for life, and reverent in the face of such a scene… for all that you hold dear, at least have some effing respect.

Is that really too much to ask?

The taking of photography of any kind is strictly–

Maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the time and place to pull out your phone or electronic device to tweet, post, check-in or photograph as if this is some other pitstop on your tour. If you really, truly cannot help yourself and must pull out your camera to capture some keepsake of visiting that (or other sacred) space, as a courtesy to those around you: don’t mug it up as it you’re in Times Square.

Take a picture of the one surviving tree unlike all the others. Try to capture the seemingly endless names. Create an image of the mists rising from the depths like the ash that coated the air and changed the planet forever.

Move you stuff out of the way. Read each name. Remember that each person represented there had a face and family, plans and dreams and smiles.

If you cannot muster some respect for the dead at least have some respect for the living. Some of those around you would like to honor those lost, touched and traumatized by the events and carry that reverence forward in their hearts and minds with a more lasting permanence than any picture could do.

If you really want to “never forget,” let the energy and sadness that permeates the air invade your soul. Walk away, thankful to be able to do so, with a lasting image marked in your memory.

Open your eyes and heart and put the electronics away.

No picture you try to take will capture your thoughts and emotions better than your brain. At a memorial, looking over a lovely vista, standing up for something important, sitting before an elegant plate, sipping a fine cup, confronted with a breathtaking scene of any kind… put your damn phone down — stop trying to capture the moment — and be in the moment.


Choose to Be IN always,

Jo Signature


Have you noticed others falling into the trap of trying to capture versus live? Do you struggle to strike the balance too? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments! I read and respond to each and every (non-spamalicious) one.

It might be short on pictures but each week I share a little of my personal impressions and thoughts in a Friday email. They are stories to be shared with friends over a good brew and you can sign up here to join the conversation.


  1. Very good point. I think it’s split evenly in the churches and museums I’ve visited this year in terms of allowing photography. But even in the most rigidly guarded areas, people will always try (and many times succeed) to get photos. It does remove you, I think. It removes me. Seeing the art or church up close is moving, but not if your eyes are on your camera’s screen. I’ve taken my share of photos, yes, but I’m always thinking about this.

    • Thanks Justin, glad to know I’m not the only one on this. The important part to me is keeping it a conscious choice and not allowing your eye to be only through an electronic lens. I’m still working to strike the balance but I also find that oftentimes the picture doesn’t turn out nearly as well as the image I want to capture in my mind’s eye. Take your picture — where it is allowed — and then put it away and make your own memories and emotional connection to augment the image.

  2. This reminds me of when I was in Prague and found a memorial for 9/11 in one of their parks and took a picture of it thinking how honorable it was to have a memorial like that in another country. Right after the group I was with starting talking about where we were that day and what was going through our minds. I remember the conversation more than anything. In fact, I don’t even know what happened to the picture.

    • Exactly Barry. It is amazing, wonderful, special that there is such a place and you found it. Yet you remember because of the human connection and not the picture. I allow that sometimes we find or look at an old photograph and it reminds us of those moments but it is one 2sec shot over a 24 hour day. Thanks for sharing, if I get to Prauge I’ll have to look up where that is.


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