I have a recurring nightmare about my camera. The beginning of the dream varies – I can be in a field full of exotic flora, a dramatically lit beach, a jumbled chimera city, and I suddenly see something particularly striking. As I grab my camera to capture this fleeting moment, something always goes awry: the viewfinder is dark, the camera cracks in my hands. Recently, I dreamt that instead of my camera, I kept farcically pulling random objects out of my bag – a brick cellphone, a hairdryer, a defunct radio. But most frequently, I simply cannot push the shutter button, and the moment gets away from me, changes, vanishes, never to return. This dream is emblematic of my attitude towards photography: I want to bottle up my world up for later, and I get anxious if I miss a shot.
This attitude has shifted in the last month since I acquired an iPhone, the very first smartphone I’ve ever owned. I love its maps and updates and instant bus schedules, but what I love most is its camera, heads above the pixelated shots my old phone produced. It’s no replacement for my DSLR, but it provides a constant reassurance that should I need an emergency photo, my iPhone is always on hand. I probably spend more time on Instagram than any other app, fascinated by the little jewel-like squares of life from around the world, while obsessively adding and hashtagging my own photos. I want to be a part of the club. I want to share that city view or this amazing piece of street art or that particularly shapely fall leaf I found. My phone is always with me, so I never stop looking for the next shot.
I wonder if this is healthy. Is this perma-readiness to photograph impeding my experiences, or enhancing them? Am I paying better attention to my surroundings, watching for some detail or geometry worth photographing? Or I am I so driven to photograph that I reduce my world to square and rectangular sections? I like to believe that through my photos, I am telling a story about my life, that it’s a backup of my memories, and that maybe other people will enjoy looking in, as well. And I haven’t had a single nightmare about the iPhone so far.