I’m climbing up the steep side of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and I’m clinging for dear life to the chain in the side of the cliff. Can I let go with one hand and dig my camera out of my pocket to document this climb? It’s a thrill-a-minute and I’m loving it, but how can I prove how scary this was without a good video?
I round a corner after days on the trail and there it is, my first glimpse of the mountain I’ve waited decades to see in person – Mount Everest in all its glory. Is it enough to just take it all in with my eyes, imprinting it on my brain forever, or must I document this from all angles for my scrapbook and blog later? If I don’t post this on Facebook, did I really do it?
I just read an article, “We Are a Camera” in The New Yorker magazine. It’s about the GoPro head-mounted cameras used by surfers, skiers, and others, but the question it raised for its author, Nick Paumgarten, and me is: to what extent do we need to record what we do to have it matter? As Paumgarten says, we “used to just do the thing – plan the killer trip or trick and then complete it, with panache. … Now the purpose of the trip or trick is the record of it. Life is footage.”
Much as I love taking photos and looking back at them, I find both truth and sadness in the “Life is footage” statement. Many times, I do forgo a picture when I am really enjoying a trail or a sight, consciously choosing to fully take in the experience in real time rather than on film, tape, or memory card. Only rarely have I regretted living the scene versus recording it. But today we live in a visual, media-dominated world, and it’s hard to rein in the impulse to document everything we do; I’m no exception, although I do feel a pang every now and then when I interrupt what I’m doing just to capture it through a lens other than my own eyes.
So, back to Angel’s Landing … it really was an impressive climb up there and once I did make it, I asked my husband to take a photo of my exhausted, sweaty self on the top so that, yes, I could prove that I’d succeeded. Here it is. Sometimes even the best plans for posterity don’t work out!