I was recently at a party taking impromptu photos of friends when a girlfriend of mine turned to me and said "you are one of the few people I know who constantly carries their camera around with them as an essential; it's like your wallet or your phone! I think you really need to look into why you do this." My first reaction to this was to laugh. My second was to put my camera away. My third was to think.
Upon further thought, I decided that my permanent staple, my ever-present accessory, my point-and shoot is an extension of my identity -- not my identity as a New Yorker, a lover of art, a reader, or even a photographer, but my identity as a woman, and a sentimental one at that.
Some people may see sentimentality in women as a negative, but I am not one of those people. The need to document, to appreciate, to remember, to pay extra attention to, and to truly examine has been a part of my coming-of-age. I can see my sentimental habit stem back to an early age, as I wrote letters to crushes, earned high marks on exams, and played Fortune Teller with my fellow girlfriends. I would save each relic as if saving the item was an act of preserving my life, seeing time slow before me, and truly savoring the moment.
I began with a small shoebox to hold my treasures, which I decorated (it still proudly displays old metro cards, badly drawn hearts, and lots of glitter). A hatbox, a jewelry box, and three bags have joined the shoebox. But something was missing from the items. My voice. My analytical take on the items (I wrote letters to Anthony because he was really good at math and I saw that as a positive trait in an 8-year-old). The items now lived with notebooks, journals, and in college, word documents on my desktop and email messages sent to myself with no subject header. Something still was not right. A sort of accuracy was clearly missing. My feelings and emotions during the moments I experienced were lost forever. Sure, I liked Anthony because he liked math, and yes, I could see what I wrote him in my letter. But what did I feel when I saw him?
The photos provided that for me. Now, I can look at the picture I have of Anthony and still feel the ghosts of the butterflies in my eight-year-old stomach. Call me sentimental, but I love it. In fact, I relish in it. Thus, I take photos. I take them not because I can take great photos, or even good ones, or because I enjoy photography, or know a thing about apertures or proper shutter speed. I take photographs because of my coming-of-age as a woman and because of my own personal education and experience as a girl, an adolescent, and a current 20-something young woman.
I learned at an early age that women have to appreciate their lives. Women have to value their experiences. If they don't, no one else will. Of course, if they don't have a photograph of themselves smiling as they are playing with a cousin of theirs, that moment in time will not be lost forever. These moments still occur, but so often their memories fade. We can't remember each and every single moment, after all. I attempt to capture all the important moments I can; photography is just my outlet for that self-placed appreciation and value. It can otherwise be manifested through painting, or song writing, what have you. My sentimentality chooses to manifest itself through a Sony camera. That does not mean I take 100 photographs a day (at least not usually). Sometimes I'll take five, sometimes I'll take fifty, and sometimes I won't take any. Yet, the act of taking a photograph gives me a sense of power in my life. It lets me control what is important to me. It guides me as to what I think matters. It highlights what is meaningful for me and what I assign value to. It keeps me grounded, it keeps me wistful, and it keeps me sentimental ... and I truly wouldn't have it any other way.
When you find yourself at your next party, at your local watering hole, or just cleaning your bedroom, take a photo! You might be surprised at what you discover about power, technology and yourself.