This year, the last family camera was put up for sale.
We were fond of taking pictures; the arrival of smartphones only made that desire more apparent. Photographs from years ago, decades ago, live on in our house, freezing and crystallizing time into a display piece.
My father was into photography, especially early on in my life. While I don’t exactly remember him taking pictures every minute when we traveled, his camera was never far behind, and it was a sturdy one at that: One of them faced the wrath of a galloping horse, yet survived, sustaining little damage if any — no lost photos.
In 2011, we got the camera that would last us for a decade. By then, I did not have much in terms of a smartphone; it was no iPhone, and its attempts at taking pictures couldn’t compare to the professional quality of a professional camera. So, with such a powerful piece of equipment and technology that I could use with permission, I took hundreds of pictures.
My knowledge of photography was… lacking, to say the least. The rule of thirds was a thing, and I later learned to adjust the focus, but other than that, and common sense on how a good picture might be, I had next to nothing. Nothing but over a thousand photos under my name in that camera alone, taken at semi-random.
Most of my photos didn’t have people as the focus. I was a hipster back then (and, in a sense, I still am), so while everyone else had group photos and snapped pictures of each other, urban still life and city landscapes were my domain. As time went on, I took on the diary-esque aspect of recording things for the sake of recording things. They still weren’t the best photographs in the world, but I relished having a lengthy gallery detailing where I’d been and what caught my attention that caught nobody else’s.
However, I began being obsessed with taking pictures to a fault, more so when I got a smartphone with good image quality. No need to ask my father to borrow the camera: I had a camera all on my own now, and I took pictures left and right wherever I went, not just during big family trips. The social media aspect did help as well: For a time, I shared my work on Facebook Stories, and I was enamored with photo-editing apps that allowed me to put filters here and there, modifying my handicraft to my heart’s content so it’d look trendy and cool like some kind of modern art, not too far from the sort I’d see on moody Instagram pages—unclear images, images of seemingly random things, all run through filters that would give the images that retro or otherwise cool vibe.
Things kept escalating until the COVID-19 lockdown hit. The obvious falling away from taking photos can be explained by my inability to go out anymore. Why would I take pictures of things I end up seeing every day, especially when I no longer venture outside? As I went on with my daily life, I began to feel that, perhaps, taking pictures all the time wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
In hindsight, one thing I should’ve curbed was the incessant desire to take pictures of everything. Sure, I didn’t take pictures of every single thing every single minute, but I liked to make art out of this and that, and wanted to record events everywhere. However, although I did churn out great work at times, I ended up taking myself away from the event, becoming an outsider detached and uninvolved in what was going on at the moment. It’s so easy for me to take pictures nowadays that most of them don’t mean anything, at least not as much as old photographs from over half a century ago when taking a photo really meant using a finite resource, compared to the seemingly endless storage space phones now have.
But even though I may try to spout some kind of non-Gen-Z wisdom, we still put the family camera up for sale.
It’s a trade-off. I take pictures and I record events, record moments of my life, and try to make art out of it. However, the hobby has lost enough value to me that I just end up forgetting much of those moments. Leading up to the lockdown, I was no longer enjoying photography as much as I did.
It’s not something I blame on phones or society or some other vague, over-arching scapegoat. If anything else, it’s something narcissistic in me: self-indulgence in taking photos, taking something other people built and owning it for myself, spitting out easy art when I don’t know how to paint with a brush or with one of those fancy digital drawing tablets people have these days, out of which they get commissioned art.
Once the lockdown is over and the old normal returns, perhaps I can take a clearer, more nuanced, more thoughtful approach to photography, to give the best I can for God and not merely for self-indulgence.
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Basil Bernabe, 22, is a born-again Christian studying at the Ateneo de Manila University.
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