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  • Writer's picturedavidauten

Don't Take a Picture

I stand before a mountain in the Alaskan wilderness beholding breathtaking beauty, moved, inwardly touched, and with a nagging inclination to take a picture. I raise my camera, and as I do I am taken out of the moment, in order to preserve the moment in megapixels for a future reverie. Now, I view the mountain through a lens, and not only the camera’s: a lens of distance and separation, a lens of saturation and filtration, a lens that desires possession of the moment over the moment itself. But I protest within myself, as it were, as I attempt to shrug off my hesitation to capture the magic of the moment: can’t I have both, the moment now, and, the moment for later? Of course I know the answer to the question, even before it is fully formed: no, I cannot have both, and I deceive myself in thinking so. Holding the camera now in front of my eye, peering through the aperture, already I am sequestered from the sublime that only a moment ago I was lost in wonderfully. The moment is gone. I take the picture anyway (with some regret). When I view it, it is not the same mountain, and does not recollect the same moment now lost to time.

“Memory, maybe, preserves it better?” I think to myself. In a way it does, and, in another way it does not, for memory is a strange thing, an echo, a residual, a reconceiving of the moment in my mind, with spectral traces of thoughts and feelings associated with the original moment in which I beheld the mountain and, even more so I realize now, the mountain held me. Yet this mental picture is faded, diluted, and in this dilution, a measure of simultaneous preservation and deletion. Thus, I see the mountain in memory is not really there to see all the same.

I put my camera away. I quiet the chatter in my mind. I close my eyes. I take in the mountain air and begin again. My eyes open to a way of seeing which I think everyone has but too few of us use. Here, in the moment, grounded in the goodness of the mountain, tied to the elements, brushed by a breeze that is gone almost as soon as it appears, I do not try to possess the mountain; I allow the mountain to possess me. Indeed, I am possessed.


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