For some reason I suspect I'm going to go a long way to get to the point this morning. Walk with me? I'm feeling like a Fall ramble.
To start with, John Lennon didn't say "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
Or rather, he did say it, in the lyrics to the song "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" about his then-young son Sean. But he didn't come up with it. He was quoting someone. To quote the Quote Investigator website (which seems apropos), "...Based on currently available evidence this piece of wisdom can be credited to Allen Saunders [in 1957]. John Lennon also included it in the lyrics of a song many years later. The expression is quite popular and has acquired multiple attributions over the decades." I can't say that Allen Saunders isn't known for anything else (I don't know who Allen Saunders is or might have been), but he has apparently lost his claim to be credited with his otherwise famous quote. John Lennon gets the credit.
To the famous goes the fame. Many great quotes eventually become folkloric—and if they do, they are then usually attributed to a handful of people who are held to be wise. I don't know about your country, but in mine, many famous quotes eventually migrate into clusters around Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin (although Ben might be declining out of fashion now as a sayer of sayings), and a handful of others. This practice is in part a claim for the quote itself: that is, if Einstein said it, it must be smart, and so on. By this process, many people who actually said something smart or wise or pithy get it taken away from them. It's said that Yogi Berra said "I never said half the things I said," to which I say, you don't say.
But regardless of who said it, in fact life often is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans, and along those lines I have a modest suggestion for your photography. Especially if you're young.
Some of you out there are older than I, but I'm about to turn 60, and I'm relishing the opportunity I now have before me to become a Wise Old Man. Like many Wise Old Men, I will have some things to say to younger people. Think Chesterfield's Letters to His Son as the very long-breathed paradigm. Does anyone read Chesterfield any more? Of do they just get him confused with G.K. Chesterton, whom G.B. Shaw (who is also said to have said many things he didn't say) confused with Belloc?
The reason older people share wisdom with younger people is regret, I suppose. Regret regarding things they wish they had done themselves, while they could. For example, one thing I always say is that if I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of my teeth. Are you young? Take care of your teeth!
Yet my son seldom sees a dentist. The hard part about saying things to younger people is getting them to listen to you. They often don't. Which might of itself be wise, because the old are often blowhards who don't familiarize themselves with much of what young people care about. Then again, I read Chesterfield's Letters to His Son when I was in eighth grade, standing in the stacks of the library. I wonder, does it make me peculiar that I have read so many books standing up? I read a number of photography books that way, standing in front of the Photography section at Ollsson's Books and Records. Getting back to Chesterfield, I found him hilariously stuffy, but I loved the language.
I think these digressions might be approaching the recursiveness of an infinite loop. I'd better end this lope and get to that advice I mentioned.
What I suggest is: every now and then, document your life.
How often? No reason to get crazy about it...do it once every two years maybe. No need to do it more than twice a year. But do it at least once every five.
Picture things. I mean just the mundane things. The quotidian things. The daily dull reality. So many things in our lives are just present. They're dull to us, because they're part of the background. They don't change. It's just the same old same old, day after day. But you know how sometimes you can be driving your daily commute, and you come across something that's suddenly changed? Maybe a building got torn down. And for a moment at least—maybe permanently—you can't remember what the building that used to be there looked like. Well, life is kinda like that. It's: same same same same same same same same same same same same same same, gone forever. So every now and then, photograph the people and the places in your life. Your grocery store. Where you sleep. Your boss. Your desk. The view from your window. A neighbor. A dog who barks as you pass. Anything that reflects the flavor and the character of your life as it is right now.
I'm neither suggesting you spend much time or effort on this, nor that you make it a big part of your photography. But maybe just once in a while.
Because change comes, change happens, and one day it will be gone or it will have become inaccessible, and you'll say to yourself, "I wish I had a picture of that now."
Might be wise. Now if my darned hair would just turn white, before it all falls out! A race is on, where that is concerned.
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Featured Comments from:
Dennis: "If I can be permitted to augment your advice (I'm ten years younger, but well ahead of you in losing the race with my hair).... While you're documenting your life, shoot a few videos, particularly of friends and family. You might be disinclined for one reason or another—you might be a still photography purist or unfamiliar with the process or just not see the point. But years later, you might very well appreciate it. I treasure my photographs. Still photography is my hobby. But the more time goes by since an event, the more I enjoy videos to fill in missing parts of my memory. Pictures of my daughter when she was two remind me what she looked like, what she wore, what we were doing at the time, how happy she was...but videos remind me what her voice sounded like and how she walked and what she said.
"I'm saying that as a parent, but it can be fun to see video of friends, family, pets, a walking tour of your house or apartment, a thunderstorm or a blizzard, just about anything. I don't take video seriously; I don't try to do it artistically or knowledgeably; I don't much care about the quality; I don't do much with my video files when I download them to my computer (someday) but when I watch them, I often wish I had more. (Your phone is a great tool for this, by the way)."
Mike replies: I agree totally. I had a few videos of my son when he was young, and a few voice recordings, and all of them got lost over the years. I really valued them and dearly wish I still had them.
Mike Chisholm: "Having been a Wise Old Man for three whole years now, I completely endorse your advice. During my adolescent years we lived in a small council flat (project apartment?) in a monumentally ugly block. Important years, but I couldn't wait to get away. When my mother died, I made a detour on the way to her funeral, so I could revisit and photograph the old block. To my astonishment, it had been demolished. Gone forever. Being an ugly building in a small town, it seemed no one else had ever bothered to photograph it, either (except from the air, or from a safe distance!); the local museum and the town council had nothing. Ever since, I have been haunted by the thought of the intimately-known space occupied by that flat, five floors up in the empty air. We should never forget that this sort of documentation is, for everyone, the primary and unique purpose of owning a camera."
Mike replies: That's almost like the mystery of death in a comprehensible form...the image of a remembered living space up in now-empty air is a powerful one.
John Leatherwood: "For those of us who were alive in the Pleistocene, Alan Saunders is remembered as one of the creators of the 'Steve Roper and Mike Nomad' comic strip that ran in the early '60s. Also 'Mary Worth' (who read that?). And although my ego could use a boost today I didn't know that, I had to look it up."