by Stephen Doherty
August 14th, 2021
“I knew that looking back on the tears would make me laugh
but I never knew that looking back on the laughs would bring me tears.”. — Author Unknown.
Someone once said that “A picture is worth a thousand words!” This was such an apt observation of a world full of lives that could be distilled down to a handful of black and white photos or a dusty color photo album that reflected the memories of a lifetime. Today? With the advent of technology that has forever made high powered cameras with unlimited film a permanent anatomical appendage?
We have saturated our lives with almost a moment-by-moment capturing of photographed and filmed events of virtually every moment of our existence. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m not saying this is a good thing. It is, most certainly, a different thing.
Throughout time, the value of something was primarily driven by its scarcity and rarity. It’s why diamonds cost more than almonds. There are far fewer of them. Throughout my lifetime, I have found that same value component inherent in the pictures we took and collected. What made them special was that, compared to today, there were so few of them and we were forced to remember and reminisce to capture the memories and emotions of those moments.
I’m not sure that today’s overwhelmingly documented life is as rich or laced with as much nostalgia as the days when photographs were available – but not abundant. Sprinkled into our lives like a misty rain – not drenching us like an unbridled flood.
Paul Anka wrote this of memories, in his beautiful rendition of The Times of Your Life. “Reach back for the joy and the sorrow, put them away in your mind. For memories are time that you borrow, to spend when you get to tomorrow..” The pictures from our life are the conduit to those memories and the capital we will spend that Paul Anka sings to.
It will forever be an interesting rhetorical question for current and future generations. Will the value of these photos be determined more by their abundance – or their scarceness? Will a hundred thousand digital photos tell a better story than the handful of tattered and time-worn black and whites? Or will the sheer volume of today’s photo collection ultimately be a diminution of its spiritual value? Like the rare diamond – will the few exceed the reminiscent value of the many?
Time changes everything and the debate over what is preferable will always hinge on the age of the observer. New technology will always find a more receptive audience with the young – precisely because they are young. However, “modern” sometimes comes at a stiff price. For example, I think the loss of the receipt of hand-written letters from loved ones is a sad culling of the cultural forest. In so many areas the same question applies – what costs were born to embrace the improvements?
There is a reason why today’s movies, even with all the technological wizardry and breathtaking special effects, rarely capture the emotion or power of the written story that spawned it. It’s why the impact and spiritual power of staring at a dog-eared black and white photo – dwarfs the thousands of photos and videos residing in today’s cell phones. Because life has no more powerful translator than the miracle of the mind and it’s ability to craft and shape our stories. I think this is one area where memories and true spiritual abundance will be gleaned from the few, not the many.
“A photo takes an instant out of time,
altering life by holding it still.” –Dorothea Lange