I used to write half truths in my teenage diaries in case they might be discovered. Propped up under my bed covers, I’d write about the popular girls who I’d pretend were my friends, and miss out the stories of the boys who teased me for looking like an oompa loompa the first time I tried to wear fake tan.
I was reminded of those sad little journals when I attempted to photograph a Canadian road trip from Banff to Vancouver on my boyfriend’s iPhone last week.
I wanted to see if photography was a medium I could enjoy. After all, who ever heard of a travel writer who doesn’t take photos? But I felt awkward asking my boyfriend to pose, vain for getting him to take my picture in an alpine meadow, silly as I photographed oranges at an Okanagan fruit stand while the jolly stall owner laughed at my fumbled attempt to capture the everyday. A good photographer would have used the camera as a tool for opening up communication with that fruit seller. I shied away.
The moments I snapped just seemed fake; the idyllic images that would have made for the perfect photo were too good to shatter with something as intrusive as a lens. How could I commodify our friends’ baby, Amber? She was perfect as she toddled naked through the sun-dappled trees, picking thimbleberries by the creek. I couldn’t ruin it all with, “Just a second, Dylan, can I borrow the phone? What’s the pin again? Ok, smile!” So I let the moment pass, content that this child’s laughter would be shared only with the forest.
At other times, I felt frustrated because the landscapes refused to pose. The mountains especially were too grand and impervious to even deign to be reduced to 1250 pixels x 1250 pixels, and on the iPhone they looked small and far away, nothing like the jaw-dropping peaks before me. Then there were the moments too fleeting to capture — the hummingbird in Victoria dipping its delicate beak into a tigerlily, already gone by the time I remember the phone’s pin, already gone by the time I’d committed the moment to heart.
Frustrated with photography and my lack of natural talent for it, I began to tell myself that writing is a superior art form anyway: a camera takes out out of the moment, for what? To reduce a beautiful experience to a 2D image? When you write, I said to myself, you get to experience each humbling, beautiful moment fully, capturing it from memory only later, at a writing desk while the rest of the world sleeps.
Bullshit. When I write, I’m still not fully in the moment. I’m still seeing the world through the eyes of the audience I’m writing for. Once I can let go of my ego and walk around in pure, silent meditation, then things might be different. But the truth is, writing isn’t better than photography or videography. There are no hierarchies. You just have to do what you love. And that was the beauty of fumbling around with a medium I hated. It reminded me that I do see the world through metaphors and similes, can’t help it. It reminded me that while I may not find joy in searching for the perfect filter or the right light, I could happily spend hours searching for the right string of words to capture the Rockies. It reminded me of what I love: writing, and life.