Capture If You Can

By Leah Buist.

There’s a universal fixation on the desire to capture the significant moments in our lives. But at what point does this fixation begin to take away from really living and enjoying our experiences? Smartphone technology has meant that we now have the means to photograph our moments so easily, but does that mean we should?

When you think about it, capturing the moment has been an ingrained characteristic of human experience for millions of years. From hunting wild animals to swimming in lakes and dancing at festivals, cave paintings are some of the earliest known depictions of captured human memories.

Photo by Vitor Paladini on Unsplash

Mankind seems to have this unshakeable desire to in some way permanently encapsulate our significant and noteworthy experiences. Whether it’s so we can look back and reminisce on a memory, or retain it for important documentation, freezing a moment in time is an element of humanity that has remained consistent despite our ever-changing nature.

The inclination to capture the moment has maintained its allure through the turn of countless historical eras. The portrait of King Henry VIII, the depiction of the great Battle of Waterloo, and even Van Gogh’s Starry Night are all incredibly famous and remarkable works of art, yet can also be understood as snapshots of important, beautiful, or noteworthy moments in time.

However, the development of new sophisticated technology in our current age has meant that capturing the moment is no longer reserved for ridiculously talented oil painters. Smartphone cameras allow us to retain fond memories and take photographs of astounding views within a matter of seconds. And the creation of social media sites such as Instagram now enables us to show off these proudly captured images to a wider audience.

Vincent Van Gogh was really no different to you and me in terms of our mutually shared desire to retain a snapshot of a pretty night sky and showcase it to an audience. However, amongst the many differences that we do share with the artist, one in particular sticks out to me the most.

The intricate nature and hard work behind capturing a beautiful moment in the creation of an oil painting have been completely diminished by the convenience of a smartphone camera. Where it once took months to craft a depiction of an image it now takes just seconds to take a photograph and post it online.

What has derived from this increased access to new technology is the emergence of the so-called Instagram ‘photo dumper’ – the type of person who takes a picture of everything and anything and then posts a collection of unrelated images online for others to see; a notion that, ultimately, couldn’t be further from how mankind used to capture memories.

Capturing the moment in today’s society isn’t carried out with as much care or attention as it once was which has given rise to a very modern day question. Is it better to focus on documenting our experiences to the tiniest detail by capturing a snapshot of everything, or should we put our phones aside and enjoy moments for what they are?

Freya Bird says she often finds herself in beautiful countries through her volunteer work. Yet, despite a photo opportunity around every corner, the 22-year-old is also more inclined to live in the moment.

“By living in the moment, I feel like you’re more likely to come away with genuine memories,” she said: “There have been several times when I’ve been so engrossed in trying to get the perfect picture or video of a moment and looking back, I don’t really recall the event itself.

“We often want the moment to look perfect on camera, so we spend a great deal of time trying to capture it flawlessly. Which ultimately can lead to us missing the moment entirely.

“So much of experiencing a new country is about all the small details such as the social interactions, different languages, the new foods. When we are trying to capture what a place looks like I think all the smaller things get overlooked.”

21-year-old Glasgow student Isaac Armstrong says he too ‘prefers to live in the moment.’

He said: “Taking photos can take away from the moment and people end up getting in the habit of thinking they need to capture every little thing that’s in reality, not even that significant.

“I have doubts over how much more enjoyment people get from looking at a photo as opposed to just reminiscing on the experience alone.

“In the summer of 2021, the Chemical Brothers headlined at TRNSMT music festival, offering a two-hour-long electro music and light show of which an iPhone camera could never have done justice.

“You needed to feel the bass of the music in your body and sense the energy of the crowd to truly appreciate the moment.”

Images captured at concerts or festivals like TRNSMT are arguably some of the most common types of Instagram posts. It’s not uncommon in the slightest to attend a gig and witness a sea of extended arms with smartphones firmly attached to the end.

Glasgow guitarist for art-rock band VCO, JonJoe McGirr says he has experienced his fair share of smartphone tidal waves.

He said: “If you go to a show and capture it the whole time, it’s sort of disingenuous to the reason you attend the show in the first place. When you purchase a ticket for something, in my mind that’s you purchasing an experience, so capturing it doesn’t make much sense and there’s less enjoyment to be derived from it.”

Yet what about those who do prefer to capture as much as they can?

Jessica Boath, a 21-year-old Glasgow student, believes that capturing the moment is the best way to retain lots of different memories that your brain may lose or forget if it wasn’t for photographs: “It’s so nice having so many pictures to look back on,” she said: “In December I wanted to take at least five pictures a day because I felt like I wasn’t taking enough.

“I wouldn’t remember as much as I do if I didn’t have pictures or videos.

“If someone went to the Grand Canyon, you can’t tell me that they’re going to remember exactly what it looked like, or how it felt to stand looking over it just by memory. They’d need a picture to remember it better.”

Fellow student Sarah Clingen agrees: “I find it a beautiful thing,” she said: “I love looking back on all these photos and discovering new things in them each time. I feel they help me appreciate the beauty of the world as by capturing it I get to live in it the moment again and again and appreciate it more. I enjoy rewatching and reliving memories and videos and photos help me do this.

“It’s important to live in the moment because life is for living and not for showing off but capturing the moment can be a really beautiful thing if it doesn’t distract you from that.”

Although Sarah and Jess enjoy capturing as many moments as they can, they still appreciate the importance of living in the moment and what it has to offer.

Jess added: “As much as I post pictures of me at a festival, the majority of it I’m on people’s shoulders, at the front, dancing, because if I was on my phone the whole time, I wouldn’t experience it as well.

“I want to be perceived as fun online and show off the genuine fun times I’m having with my friends.

“But it can become extreme where you aren’t enjoying the moment anymore and it’s all about social media. You want to come across in a certain way and you end up not actually enjoying yourself.”

Capturing the moment is an innate aspect of living, whether it’s a beautifully crafted oil painting or a two-second snapshot of a sunset on your smartphone. We all like to retain special moments in some way or another so they can be appreciated again in the future. However, it’s important to also fully live our experiences as well as capture them, perhaps something that new technology is leading us to forget.

Taking too many photographs or being fixated on capturing the perfect moment for social media, can make you miss important life experiences that may have been greater appreciated if you just kept your phone in your pocket.

Whether you decide to live in the moment or capture it, there’s really no right or wrong way to enjoy your life. But in regard to the ongoing debate of capture it or live in it, it seems striking a good balance is the way forward.