You’ve taken many forms. The “oh it might rain, I should leave my gear in the car” moments. The last straws before surely my husband will file for divorce if I ask him to stop the car for one more glimpse of a sunset or a field of horses. The situations where I’m just tired of being a photographer and carrying the burden of performing, making people smile, and creating something exceptional out of the everyday is just too much to bear.
You’re all those pictures that never got taken.
Even if I don’t use a camera to capture you, in truth, I still take you, because I’m always taking you in my mind. When I see the sun glittering through the leaves on my morning walk, when I catch the shadows do an enchanting dance on hands as they grip the steering wheel, when I witness the wind blow hair just right and the smile on the face of a friend is so authentic and honestly beautiful, I capture all those things, but not in a tangible way.
And afterward I mourn you. You haunt me in my sleep. You are a song on mute, a page that will remain blank because the story will never be written. You will remain shoved away amongst 90’s song lyrics and Spanish idiomatic expressions learned in middle school in the remote recesses of my mind, and just like those things, try as I may, I can’t forget you. Time and again, I’ll kick myself for not reaching far enough to seize you when I had the chance.
It’s my job as a photographer to capture things. To clench them tightly in my fist and make the fleeting permanent. A simple glance or a smile becomes a relic of history. As a photographer I take pictures. And what an appropriate verb for such a task: take. For when I take a picture I’m really stealing it. Stopping time, and making the instance something perhaps it never intended to be. I’m robbing myself of my ability to truly drink in the sweet nectar of that moment. I’m isolating a single frame from an elaborately beautiful story and assuming that that one millisecond is enough to eloquently whisper the finest intricacies of the whole tale.
But allowing a moment simply to exist feels a lot like failure. It feels like letting my first true love drive the car away while I stand dumbly in the street watching him go. I have to record it so I may remember it and, more importantly, share it. I need someone else to validate me, to see and agree with me that yes, when the late afternoon sun slants through the window of my office it truly looks like an etherial wonderland. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?
I’m coming to find that you’ll always be around one way or another, you, the frame that never got captured. Sometimes it’s due to an autofocus that just can’t keep up with the moody lighting of a ballroom dance floor as the beat of a bass vertebrates in my chest and an anonymous family member throws himself into a gyrating rendition of Thriller. I frame the shot and press the button, but it never fires. Gone. We will never see this exact hip thrust and head tilt combo again. At least not in this place at this time with these people.
Sometimes it’s because I just want to leave the camera at home so that I can be a participant in my best friend’s birthday party rather than the hired help. So that I no longer feel the pressure to be the creeper in the corner stealing smiles and glances and awkward white girl dance moves as they occur. So that I can be present and conversational rather than covert and quiet.
And then there are the other times when you and I meet. You, the image that got away. The times when I decide that feeling something is more important than taking something. The days when my camera and I peacefully part ways and I allow myself to view the world with more than just my left eye. Truth be told, despite the pit in my chest that tells a different story, those are nice days. The guilt of letting you creep up again is there, sure, but I’m learning to find solitude in your presence, to know that the most beautiful moments in life shouldn’t be taken, they should be wholeheartedly experienced. And while I’m sad sometimes that the whole world can’t see those vignettes along with me, I know they’ll live on, perhaps even more vividly, with their uninhibited beauty in my mind. Sometimes the greatest art is not an image, but an experience, after all.