On Cameras and Intentionality

I’m beginning to write this post with only a vague idea and no clear outline, so we’ll see how this goes. My plan is for it to be a relatively short post, but I can sometimes be a bit long-winded. Anyway, my inspiration for this post is a variety of experiences and encounters I have had regarding using a phone/camera to take photos, and people’s reactions to me owning a dedicated camera.

I think I first somewhat started thinking a bit more about the idea of intentionality regarding photography in around 2017 when I had just moved to Hawaii. The thing that prompted it was that I was going to go driving around with some girl and decided to bring my camera with me (which is a normal thing for me since Hawaii is beautiful and I think phone photos never do it justice) and she asked me, “why do you have a camera?” My interpretation of her facial expression and tone of voice when asking this question was that she thought it was somehow weird, and that I shouldn’t have a camera. The question was astonishing to me because in my mind it’s incredibly obvious why anyone would have a camera, and I couldn’t understand someone thinking that cameras are unnecessary just because we have one on our phones.

When I think about taking photos on my phone, I normally think about using it in a practical way, like I need to take a photo of something to refer to later, want to show something to someone, or just want to take a basic photo of/with my friend. However, if I want to take a photo with any sort of artistry, it doesn’t even cross my mind to use my phone. I guess this is kinda tied into my view of a smartphone being a bit of a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. Another aspect of this is that if I use a camera, it is very clear that I am going out with the intention of taking photos, and I have a dedicated device to do this; no one is going to call or text me on my camera, and it gives me no notifications. I feel that even if the photo quality were equal, I would still prefer to take photos on a dedicated camera purely because it gives me a sense of purpose and intentionality in what I’m doing. I also hate working from home due to my home also being the place where I watch tv, sleep, relax, read books, edit photos, play video games, etc. The multi-functionality of a place or thing seems to impair my ability to use it to its fullest potential, due to distraction.

I still have almost all of my photo files that I took using cameras, even as far back as 2006-2007, whereas I don’t know what happened to most of the photos I took using my phones even as recently as like 6 years ago. I think this also ties into the intentionality thing – you can always just randomly take photos of stuff using your phone, but that relative ease makes the photos feel less meaningful/important, and the likelihood of your photos getting lost in your phone is also pretty high given that you’re also probably taking/saving tons of other photos to your phone on a regular basis.

I recently had the experience of rediscovering some photos I took in 2007 while I was in Japan for a summer exchange program. One thing that really struck me was remembering I didn’t even have a phone that whole time, just a tiny compact camera that I could slip in my pocket. Also when I look through the pictures from when I was at a summer camp (with a bunch of people from various countries) for one week, I noticed that most of the other people had their own compact cameras with them. I mean, going abroad is definitely something you’d want to remember, right? Looking through these photos really brought the memories and feelings I had during that trip flooding back. I remember that trip being a transformative experience, particularly the week I spent with those people at the summer camp; it felt like we had all bonded very quickly during that week, and I remember crying on the train after leaving the camp, knowing I would likely never see those people again.

I think it was the intentionality of taking those photos to preserve memories that makes them so meaningful to me, there was a clear reason to take the photos, which is why we all went through the trouble of bringing cameras. The photos themselves are not particularly good looking, and I’m sure that compact camera’s quality is worse than most smart phones today, but they feel more meaningful than 99% of my street photos or ‘artistic’ photos I try to take now.

Another thing that strikes me is that it would likely be impossible to experience the same kind of thing today. We were all there without phones, no mobile data or sim cards or anything like that, and only had cameras to record the memories. I wonder what it would be like if I was 17 years old now and went on the same trip; would I have still connected with those people in the same way if we all had smartphones and constant contact with the internet and people back home? Would I still have the photos 14 years later if I had taken them on my phone?

4 replies to “On Cameras and Intentionality

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