I have thousands of photos of myself on Facebook, but approximately 90 percent of them are before and including the year 2010. Since I’ve moved to France, I’ve taken very few and had very few taken of me, even fewer which actually made it onto social media. Initially, people would ask me to post more photos to show what I was up to, but eventually the requests stopped. When it became clear that I was done with the photo-happy era of my life, even the most pushy family members accepted that they were just going to have to use their imaginations for some of it. It sounds pretentious, and it is, but people do generally assume that a big move (especially to a city as picturesque as Paris) would necessitate a churning waterfall of photographic evidence.
It’s embarrassing to say, but a huge portion of the photos from when I did take a lot of them are of the same dozen-or-so people and places. Our friends had parties, we went to them, we took a thousand pictures of ourselves posing in different ways and holding our glasses, and then we promptly uploaded them. I can’t stand to look through these albums now, because after one or two images the nostalgia is completely satiated and then it becomes an endless reel of the same thing which can cross years of time to bring me back into its narcissistic tedium. Why did I want so many photos of myself doing the same thing? Why did I think that I needed them?
Today, I have a few friends and acquaintances who still have the same MO. They’re in their mid-twenties and still can be counted on to upload dozens, even hundreds of photos of that evening’s party the next morning. They go on trips and seem to never put their phone or camera down, always catching that exotic-looking fish dish from a thousand different angles. When I see their endless photo-taking (the albums always accruing progressively fewer “likes” as people realize that this stream is going to be never-ceasing), I get a little twinge of sadness. I cannot help but wonder who exactly they’re taking these photos for, as I know for a fact that my own manic clicking was never truly for my own benefit. I wanted people to see what I was doing, to be impressed by it, to be jealous of it even. I wanted to seem like the kind of person who had a robust social life and an attractive group of friends, who was never short of things to do.
There are obviously happy middles, of course. You can take a few photos here and there of things, or make an album of an important event you want to remember without it being egregious. But there is a fear that can easily develop, when we get used to seeing photographic proof of our wonderful, adventurous lives, that if we don’t capture something when we have the chance, we will never remember it. The tree fell in the forest, so and and so forth. When I first stopped taking pictures of everything I did, I was paranoid about the parties and fun moments that I wasn’t keeping with me. Now, I find that only the best ones stand out in my mind, and I like that. It’s sort of a natural selection process of our own lives, deciding unconsciously what it is that really matters to us and the people we want to keep around us — not just the people who seem to most frequently be at our sides when the camera goes off.
I have several friends who often will post funny notes about their weekend’s activities, or call to talk about what they did, or even send out emails updating on what has been going on since everyone last saw each other. We take it for granted now, but writing to one another used to be the way we kept in touch, the way we illuminated the people who mattered about all the things happening in our lives. And seeing an out-of-context set of photos of a friend’s dance performance is nice, but getting to hear or read about all the things that happened and what she got out of the experience is infinitely more satisfying. While photos are a medium that will clearly never be replaced, it does not mean that they have to be our sole mode of communication when it comes to keeping in touch. Journaling, writing, calling — they are all ways of painting a picture which don’t involve inundating our closest 500 friends with ten pictures of what we had for lunch on vacation.
It would be a lie to say that there weren’t a few moments in my past few years that I’m sad I don’t have a photo of. Sometimes we miss things, and that can’t be helped. But that also happened to me when I was taking pictures of everything. Just a bit less frequently. The truth, though, is that I am happier to just have a few days here and there that I regret not having evidence of than having hundreds and thousands of pieces of evidence that I have no desire to look at. All of those parties from my 19th year that were more like photo shoots with a bunch of red Dixie cups, I know I’ll never have to think about. They’re all the same. But the days I keep as close to my heart and to my journal as possible because I know I want to remember them — those days I will have forever.