The Importance of Leaving Your Camera at Home



The best camera is the one you have on you–or so the saying goes. What if you left the camera at home? There have been many occasions when I’ve been late to things because somewhere along the journey, I realized that there was a weight missing from my bag. The mere thought of missing the moment proved too harrowing, so I always had to double back to fetch my camera. Who’s to say what I could have missed by going back, not forward? This may sound like gobbledygook coming from someone who’s in the midst of a photo365 (a photo a day for 365 days), but there are benefits to giving the camera a rest.

Constantly trying to be aware of and capture the moment can often take you out of it. Photography for me and others, I’m sure, is an instinct. It’s a way to interpret and make sense of the outside world, and I feel stripped when I don’t have camera nearby. It’s become both an extension of my hands and my eyes, and in working through a photo365, I’ve maintained a constant awareness. This awareness is like radar. Dots will show up that indicate something is there, but I won’t know until I go closer. Those dots are moments that, if executed properly, become photographs worth looking at.

Yet, these images don’t become memories. The split second after pressing the shutter, the viewfinder goes black. The image has reformed the silver halide crystals on film, or in my case recently, a 24 MB RAW file on an SD card. The momentary blackness resets the mind. Hitting the preview button becomes a gamble. Did I or didn’t I get the shot? It’s more precarious with film, when it becomes the great unknown until the film’s developed.

Oftentimes I find it easier to remember the images I’ve missed than the ones I’ve made. Writers often forget the stories they write. Actors have a habit of not watching their own films. Once the creation goes out into the world, it’s no longer your own.

These moments that I wait for (and I can only speak for myself) are externalized rather than internalized. While they represent my vision and approach as a photographer, these images are often apart from me, not a part of me. These memories exist in files, and paper in some cases, and while this may prove useful in old age if my memory goes, I find that I’m more focused on the image than I am on experiencing life.

This isn’t a renunciation of photography. Rather, it’s being aware that my awareness can be as much a detriment as it is an asset. The moment shouldn’t rule the photographer. The photographer should rule the moment.

Image-making is a conscious choice. Of course, it’s the images we show that are representative of who we are as photographers. This point was explored at length by Ming Thein, and it’s worth reading. Similarly, choosing not to make the image can be as important as choosing to make it, and in some instances it can be more beneficial.

Leaving the camera at home can open a door to experience life more immediately. It’s a way to reset the mind, and while you won’t be able to shake your ability to recognize photographs as they happen, you can more readily ascertain whether or not it’s an image worth making.

I don’t know what’ll happen if I ever do decide to take a break for a while, but when I do, I’ll have peace of mind.