To shoot or not to shoot?

“Take nothing but [fill in the blank]” on Seascripts: Cavalier at Sea:115 days circumnavigating the Atlantic Ocean aboard the MV Explorer website, retrieved 29th October, 2013,

When we shoot photographs are we missing out?

This article commenting on a trip to Ghana where photography is not allowed, makes the point that, by always being on the lookout for photographic angles, we may miss out on the whole experience.

The MV Explorer is a university ship, run by the University of Virginia, where students spend a semester at sea studying and touring.  The writer of the article is a graduate teaching assistant on the study tour, teaching Marine Biology and Global Music.

The premise of the article is that, by filming and taking photographs, we focus only on the sense of sight (and, in the case of movies, sight and sound).  We discount the other senses of smell, taste and touch – which are vital for creating the whole experience.

Further, in seeking for the perfectly framed shot on our digital camera screen, we lessen the ability to record the whole experience as a memory.

It can be argued that, while recording of experiences and ideas outside of the mind allows for a greater analysis and greater complexity and development of ideas, the use of such recordings lessens our ability to use our memories.  Is our use of records as an aid to memory actually contributing to the loss of memory that seems inevitable as we age?

The author of this article suggests that the stricture found in Ghana banning photography led to a heightening of the experience and, perhaps, a better memory of those experiences over time.  She comments that, indeed, it is the sense of smell that most triggers memory. (Toffolo, Smeets & van den Hout 2012)

Especially when on holidays, or travelling abroad, we are often so intent on framing our next photo to share, we strip our whole experience of all other senses but vision.  ‘… in transferring our memories to the screen, we all too often forget to transfer the screen to our memories.’

This lessening of the importance of mind memory occurs when we use other recording devices also.  When we write something down, we take less care to remember it.  We can listen to recorded music over and over again, but it will never be the same experience as a live performance with all its memory triggers – the lighting and sense of place, the hard or comfortable seating, the smells of place and people and the extra sound dimension of acoustics of place and the wrap around sounds of the whole experience.

The author comments that the sign below would better reading, ‘Take nothing but memories.’

take nothing but photographs kakum ghana

In our haste to record our lives, we need to remember to live them, savour the experiences good and bad and drink in those memories.

Toffolo, MBJ, Smeets, MAM & van den Hout, MA 2012, ‘Proust revisited: Odours as triggers of aversive memories’, Cognition & Emotion, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 83-92.


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