Don’t let the lens, whatever the form, keep us from living the experience

03/17/2014 3:45 PM

03/17/2014 3:45 PM

“I’d like to get a new lens for our trip,” my husband, Thad, said. I groaned.

I have no right to be irritated. We’re going on vacation. He wants to take great pictures. There’s nothing groan-worthy about that, is there? It’s art. It’s documentation of family time together. It’s enjoyment for him, memories for everyone.

Except, I just keep thinking, what is this? Is it a photo shoot, or are we spending some happy quality time? In my experience, those two activities are rarely one-and-the-same.

Thad has been a photography hobbyist since I met him. He comes from a photogenic family that likes to take photos of each other, then put them in frames. I come from a family that is hopeless when it comes to remembering to bring a camera. If, by some miracle, a camera makes it to our gathering, we take copious photos of each other chewing food and scowling.

So, what happens when you cross a camera-phobe with a photo-phile? You get two reluctant photo-bombers. I’m a pretty typical mom who likes pictures of my kids. But things can quickly digress, going terribly awry. I find myself barking in my sternest mom-voice, “Smile! A real smile! Like you’re having fun! If you don’t, so help you …” They glare, then roll their eyes, then pout as I try to force them to smile naturally.

Thad has a different approach to getting his subjects to look pretty. He photographs landscapes. In our basement, we have cabinets and albums and boxes full of landscape photos that he’s taken. I’ve been with him for many of them. He’s a bit of a scientist about it, preferring manual settings with experimental exposures. I usually lean against a wall — or a rock — or a fence — while he takes them. My point being, it takes enough time that I’m ready to lean on something. Photography as an art form is a slow-paced pastime.

When Thad is behind the lens, there is something between us. His focus — his eye — his mind — is elsewhere. It pulls him away, if only for a few minutes.

For me to complain, that would be a double-standard. I spend much of my time looking at the world through a lens — although my lenses are rectangular. Into my computer screen, my phone, my iPad, this is where my mind wanders, traipsing away during family-time, often in the name of creativity.

“MOM! Are you even watching me?” my daughter howls, cartwheeling across the yard, all knees and elbows and hair tumbling along. I watched cartwheel attempts 1 through 42, but on her 43rd attempt, my attention dropped to my phone, where I typed some notes — fleeting thoughts I didn’t want to forget.

“I’m watching,” I assured her before I looked up to her again.

The glass into which we peer is a blessing. It provides a new view. An outlet for our thoughts. A means to share and a medium for communication. But we can’t let it fog up, we can’t let it keep us from being present and experiencing what is real. The memories we create are forever, but the actual experience is short. We mustn’t miss it.

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