Don’t Be Distracted by Style over Substance
Guest Blog: Jane Heineken
We know that our ancestors spent most of their days fighting for their very survival without the benefit of automation, climate control, sanitation, modern medicine, or any of the technological advances we now enjoy. The few pauses they took from the unrelenting task of feeding, clothing, and sheltering their families had to do with religious or social rituals marking major life events and the passage of time: births, deaths, marriages, and holidays. Each culture around the world developed customs that made their people feel celebrated or comforted during particular times along the hard road of life. Sometimes there were artists or storytellers to capture these moments for future generations, but mostly, memories were made in the minds of those who lived the moments: laughed, cried, danced, ate, and prayed intensely with their communities.
Cut to modern times, when the entrepreneurs of a commercialized society realized that there was lots of money to be made off of these celebrations: suddenly Martha Stewart was dictating your kid’s destination birthday party and Zales was hinting that your husband should be looking at a “push present” and Bridezillas terrorizing their girlfriends had actually become A Thing. When I had my senior high school yearbook photo taken, I drove to a studio in August, sweated through a series of posed, seated shots in a stifling hot, velour sweater that was to be “all the rage” that fall, waited several weeks to see proofs, and chose the one I found the most flattering—end of story. Then came my daughter’s turn: “on location” in a public botanical garden over several hours, with at least four different outfits—and I was STILL sweating as I tried to help her change into them behind a blanket so that she wouldn’t acquire an arrest record at 18 for indecent exposure. “This is CRAZY,” I kept muttering as I swatted off bees and mosquitos; it got even worse when we were paralyzed by the overwhelming quantity and shocking expense of possible photos from which to choose. Whenever I questioned the new protocol, I was told over and over again, “But this is how it’s DONE now.” The peer pressure had shifted from wearing the “right sweater” to being “the right kind of parent.”
I heard a similar story from a friend who attended a perfect cinematic tableau of a wedding: sunset at the beach, balmy breezes, chirping birds, and lapping surf. The happy bride and groom stood clutching hands, ready for the ceremony to bind their lives together…when suddenly the peacefulness of the moment was completely destroyed by an overly ambitious wedding photographer clicking her way around and across the altar space. She then proceeded to force her way between the bridal party and the audience, turning around to the front rows to jam a large lens into the faces of loved ones, trying to get “candid response shots” from people attempting to witness and enjoy the sacred ceremony. What the photographer got instead was my friend giving her the evil eye, gesturing a “cut” motion and hissing at her to “GO AWAY,” much to the relief of those sitting around her!
Meanwhile, a recent news report cited the latest trend in wedding photography: hiring drone operators to send cameras overhead for a bird’s-eye perspective of outdoor ceremonies. Seriously? Now we’re going to be buzzed and dive-bombed during everyone’s vows?? Add to this the rash of overly elaborate, flashmob engagement proposals going viral, and professional photo sessions booked for everything from school dances to once-private passages such as gestation and childbirth. I hadn’t realized how out of hand some of these practices had gotten until people began to parody them: check out one dad-to-be’s “pregnancy photo shoot” (http://www.buzzfeed.com/mikespohr/this-man-took-maternity-photos-of-himself-when-his-pregnant#yx14a1 ) and the couple that inserted their dog into the modern family album trope (http://www.lifewithdogs.tv/2014/08/couple-does-newborn-photo-shoot-of-rescue-dog/ )!
Perhaps because technology and trends have been changing so quickly, people have become more concerned with micromanaging the presentation and documentation of life events rather than simply experiencing them, in the moment, with merely the human senses granted to us from as far back as when we were in the womb. It’s not just the hosts of events who are guilty of this; attendees, too, are often caught up in demonstrating their own participation in things that are really “not about them.” I received one wedding invitation in which the bride and groom felt the need to request that their guests focus on the ceremony rather than on photographing it with their camera phones. Have we really become so distracted by the trappings of occasions that we forget to focus on their deeper meanings?
It’s easy to feel controlled by all of the things that are possible these days, as well as by what “everybody else” is doing. However, we have the right—and sometimes, the obligation—to examine and question how we want to mark the special occasions in our lives. What is the most important aspect of the event we are hosting or attending? How best do we honor that aspect? How can we balance planning, presentation, and preserving memories with the actual opportunity to connect and engage in ritual and community in the moment? If you are the subject of the event, discuss these things with your photographer, videographer, family, and guests so that expectations are clear and your wishes are respected (as well as those of others who may prefer not to be photographed or filmed). If you are a guest at an event, take a few moments to see beyond the style—stunning as it may be—in order to appreciate the substance of the occasion. A beautiful photograph or video clip is a lovely momento to treasure, but in the end, it is still a collection of pixels filtered through the distance of a lens. It’s much more powerful to have the smell of the flowers, the warmth of the hug, the power of the music, and the light in the faces of your loved ones imprinted on your heart.