These days taking photos is something a lot of us like to do. It’s intriguing how some of us like taking photos of ourselves, taking selfies. Intriguing how some of us like taking photos of what we see around us, such as that city building reaching for the clouds, the unmoving calm blue ocean, family, animals or the homeless man shaking his booty for a buck.
6am. My alarm goes off. I groan, squinting a sleepy eye at my buzzing handphone next to my pillow. Slapping a hand over it, the shrill sound cuts off. An hour earlier to rise before work to watch and snap photos of the sunrise along the iconic Yarra River. I groggily stumble out of bed, put on my corporate clothes, grab my bag that I packed a few hours earlier and shuffle to the tram stop.
Whether we’re an amateur, professional or hobbyist with the camera, we find fascination in the sights and people around us regardless the season. No two of us have the same life stories and perspectives so in retrospect each of us carries our camera for different reasons.
For some of us, photography is escapism. Eyes fixed steadfast on our subjects, each gentle click of the shutter button carries us away from the shackles of mundane life. Enthralled by the vivid world in front of us, we forget about ourselves for a while.
Ironically, sometimes we feel the same reprieve turning the camera on ourselves. We selfie when we’re proud of how we look, this photographic “me time” ever so popular in Asia. Having a fair face is all the rage here, and so are doe eyes – putting faces on show is the trend there, hence the selfie trend. Not much of a surprise since parts of the Philippines and Malaysia take up four of the top ten spots in the “selfiest” cities rankings.
So some of us might take photos of ourselves to satisfy the inner narcissist in us. This morning, taking a selfie is the furthest thing from my mind at the deserted tram stop. A city-bound tram screeches to a halt in front of me and sleep-deprived, I stagger on.
We take photos to capture moments, creating mementos of time that were once lived. Mementos giving us a sense of connection to cultures around us. It could be a reason why some Asians eye their meals through cameras. Certain dishes are symbolic of prosperity and eating well is a sign of wealth in Asian cultures – food is language, food is pride, and showing off snaps of food is one way to flaunt social status.
My stomach rumbles. No breakfast this morning, no photos of breakfast today. As the tram heads towards the river, my half-closed eyes peer out the window. A dash of pale red streaks through the navy blue predawn sky. What a tease, Melbourne. You beauty. My city…
We take photos of the world around us because we don’t want to miss a moment, don’t want to forget fleeting, priceless moments. Life waits for no one, life moves along and memories fade. Stifling a yawn, I glance at my phone. 6.45am. My jaw clenches as the tram grinds to a halt at a red light. Faster…it’s not every day I have much time to myself outside of a long hours number-crunching job. Maybe I’m becoming like my Chinese-Malaysian dad, yet another workaholic Asian parent working round the clock…
…on a trip to Singapore Zoo when I was a kid, dad stood stoically on the path, blocking other visitors behind him and indignantly yelled in my direction, “Move a bit right! A bit left!”, holding up his point-and-shoot. All for a distant full-body shot of me in front of the giraffe exhibit. Desperate to get shots of the family on holiday. You got to do what you got to do to capture moments that matter….
And so some of us take photos because we want to say we’ve been there, done that, felt that. To remember how we felt.
Or not, since not all of us like taking photos. We might be afraid of offending someone by snapping a photo of them, someone who happens to think taking a photo of them in public sans their permission is intrusive (probably why some of Asian descent ask politely before taking photos of Westerners on the streets). Or we can’t for the life of us walk and press buttons on a camera at the same time.
The tram rumbles to a stop across the river and I alight. Barely feeling the crisp autumnal breeze batting my face, I jog to the bridge overlooking the water and MCG. Pass a man wearing glasses and a hoodie, leaning forwards on the bridge railing while looking skywards. I look where he’s looking, heart racing, and my eyes flicker wide open.
Clouds touched by the early rays of sunshine speckle overhead. A sight akin to an explosion of a thousand bags of red cotton candy across the sky. I fumble with my camera, point it upwards and press the shutter button.
Taking photos is more than just about creating memories. Whenever we take a photo on a film camera or DSLR, we freeze time and space. Capture a story, capture history. Holding a camera in our hands, we slow down when we take a shot: we see how the world turns, live the present and turn with the world.
Borrowing Martin Heidegger’s phrase and his notion of temporality, when we take photos, we are time. Holding a camera in our hands, we are at one with nature when we take a shot: in a split second the scene we shoot becomes past and we step into the future ready to capture the next moment, the future which instantaneously becomes the present at the forefront of our watchful eyes and camera lens.
The crimson sky bleeds into orange before I know it. I snap away in the same direction. Birds soar overheard towards the MCG, cutting into my shots. There’s usually much more going on during the darkest moments before dawn, every hour of the day, than we think. The sky’s not the only one awake this morning…
Certainly a multitude of stories lie in a single photo. And no two photos are entirely the same because no two seconds in this world are the same. As Melbourne-based photographer Ading Attamimi said, each photograph “capture(s) a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”
The orange tones in the sky blend into peachy hues, then baby blue hues. I turn my camera off and look around, just in time to see the guy leaning on the bridge straighten and walk away. In such a big world, often we are small, surrounded by the imperceptible powers of nature. I turn to go to work. And pause. Shivering in the crisp autumnal air. Heart racing no more. Alone. I raise my camera again. Work can wait…
We take photos to tell stories. Discover, relive and share stories that not everyone gets to feel. The subtle ones especially.
Do you like taking photos and why?