Last month, due to a file transfer glitch, I lost all my cell phone photos from the past year.
I had taken a lot of pictures–maybe three or four hundred. I tried troubleshooting, but as far as I could tell, they were just gone, vanished into the ether between the phone and the computer.
At first I was shaky and stunned. A whole year, gone.
I don’t usually take pictures of people, so I didn’t lose precious baby photos or anything like that, but I love shooting day-to-day photos around my city, my garden, architecture, and far-flung locations when we travel. (We’d gone on one international vacation in that year. It was the only time we brought our full-scale digital camera. So I didn’t lose all evidence of our trip.)
But by a few days later, I felt much calmer.
It’s true that not all the photos were exactly gone. I’m on Instagram and post often, so many of the photos survived there, though only in a low-res, square format.
It may also be true, as my spouse pointed out, that I took so many photos that no single one was particularly special to me.
But I think something else is going on.
Theory the first: I use photography as a form of mindfulness, to remind myself to look for moments of beauty in my not-particularly-beautiful urban life. It’s why I enjoy Instagram challenges, taking a photo roughly every day for a month. It’s a form of self-care. The value isn’t in the finished product; it’s in the act of creation and how it shapes me, day in and day out.
Theory the second: Once my photos go up on Instagram, they’re shared with the world. Other people get to see them and connect with them, be moved by them or enjoy their beauty for a moment. My creations have passed from me to my audience (granted, it’s a small audience, but who’s counting?). The value for me isn’t in the product; it’s in the sharing.
As you know if you’re here, photography isn’t my primary mode of creation–writing is. But I wonder, now, just how much of what I learned about my relationship to photography also applies to my writing.
Which is NOT to say I’m prepared to lose my writing in order to find out. (Don’t worry, I do backups!)
But still, this is what I’m doing: Create. Share. Repeat.
It’s that easy, and that hard.