Last Saturday I saw Patty Griffin in the intimate Kessler Theater in the Bishop Arts District in Dallas. In person, Patty’s music takes on a mystical quality. Her voice rings defiant to soothing, full to a whisper all from a body that seems too small to span such a large range. I found myself immersed in her mesmerizing voice until the woman in front of me decided she needed flash photos, no doubt to be posted on her Facebook page.
After the third flash shot, her husband gently pulled her arm and shook his head NO. I’m assuming this was her husband by the way she glared back. “You’re disturbing everyone else,” he whispered. She scowled, but put down the camera. Exhibiting amazing self-control, I did not break out in applause in the middle of the song.
I scanned the audience. Glowing IPhones beamed from all spots in the theater, people photographing and recording the event. This isn’t the only time I’ve observed this phenomenon. When I saw Jackson Browne from great seats a few rows from the stage, the woman next to me recorded the video screen to the right of the stage for the majority of the concert. At my son’s high school graduation last spring, I watched parents crawl over the professional photographer hired for the event to get their shot. When did this happen? When did recording the event become more important than the event itself?
I’m guilty of this myself. I love to photograph, especially nature shots. My husband accuses me of photographing more sunsets than people, and he’s probably right. We have stacks of sunset photos from unidentified far-off places. Even so, when that sunset comes, I’m apt to point and shoot.
On a recent trip to the Galapagos, I took about 500 shots of iguanas, seals, birds, beaches, and dormant volcanoes. From the land portion of my trip, I have an arsenal of proof that I experienced something. In the water, I swam with sea turtles, sharks, rays, millions of fish, seals and even a penguin. I don’t have a photo to show for it. “Shoulda borrowed Daniel’s GoPro,” I muttered several times throughout the trip. My son Daniel took his GoPro when he left for college this fall.
But here’s the weird thing. My memories of snorkeling are more vivid than the land experience. Submerged in a school of thousands of sardines I slipped in a dream world, a fantasia-like dance that I don’t have words to explain (yet). A friend and I mimicked the stroke of a sea turtle, long, steady and mellow – teaching us that the dudes who wrote “Finding Nemo,” must have done their sea turtle research. Without a way to record, I left myself room to absorb the underwater experience.
On land, I forced myself to put down my camera occasionally. I felt the wind, the warm sun on right cheek. Most of the time, however, I was consumed with getting the best shot. In my efforts to record the experience, I wonder how much experience I missed.
My guess is, a lot.
Live concerts may be a lost cause for a full sensory experience. In those situations, I’ll try to unclench my fists and wish those who insist on paying digital homage Namaste (as Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests in Wherever You Go, There You Are). Outside concerts, I plan to execute my own life experiment. The next time a good sunset comes along, I’m going to click off my camera.
I plan to take in the sky.
For more information about Julie K Hersh or her speaking engagements, go to the Struck by Living website.