Your memory is going to suck because of all the photos you took when you should have been paying attention to what was happening around you.
From the article, “Taking Photographs Weakens Memories, Psychological Study Finds”
This was based on a study wherein a group of people were asked to tour an art museum. One group was asked to take photos, the other group asked to simply remember what they saw. As expected, those taking photos fared more poorly in remembering what they saw, compared to those without a camera.
I understand the point being made though in the study. With cameras more ubiquitous than ever before, it’s easy for people to relegate an experience to their camera, at the expense of being fully present. And while I can see how this could be true for some instances and some people, my personal experience has been quite different.
I recently travelled to the Middle East, where I saw and experienced a great variety of people and places. Some experiences were conducive to taking photos, others weren’t. As I’ve gone back and began writing about my experiences there, I’ve found the photos and videos I shot invaluable in recalling details about what I experienced. There’s things I see in these that I had completely forgotten. Now, I suppose you could say that, without a camera in hand, I may have experienced—and thus recalled—more detail. But in many instances I was unable to use a camera. For example, some museums didn’t allow them, or my conversations with some people weren’t conducive to filming and photographing them. In these cases, my recollection is likely average. But in the instances I was able to photograph, say, some street art, or film a conversation with someone, I am provided rich detail about the experience.
It’s true, with camera in hand, it can be easy to be removed from being fully present in the moment. It’s not hard to hide behind the camera, relying on it to serve as my memory, feeling as though I’m absolved of immersing in the experience at hand. Because of this possibility though, I’ve found photographing—at least for me—allows me to better engage the moment. As I tend to think as a photographer in these moments (less about exposure and composition, more about content and meaning), I find myself more fully engaged in experiences that I’m filming or photographing.
And for me this makes sense. We’re faced with countless experiences, and to remember them all is impossible. Filming and photographing isn;t something I do always, but when I do, I find myself more immersed in the experience, often more so than without a camera.
Similar to the museum experiment the study was based on, I frequently go to art museums. Where it is allowed, I’ll almost always photograph much of what I see. Only, I’m rarely there to simply photograph. I’m there to experience the art. For me, photos come after the experience, as a way to record more notable works and, often, later share them with others. For me, this has dramatically improved my ability to recall my art experience.