In all my limited time on this earth, I have never particularly appreciated casual photography. For much of my life I have attempted to avoid being in photos, largely in order to best prevent the horror of my visage from being inflicted on others. I have also largely avoided taking photos, partially because I’ve only had a smartphone for a few years and partially because I generally think if I desperately need to revisit some stunning vista the internet has probably captured it better than I can. Further, when I can, I avoid looking at other people’s photos of scenery or family, though I secretly suspect this to be true of others. I don’t even have an Instagram, a serious problem for keeping up with people in my age demographic. To be fair, I sometimes attempt to enjoy photography as a visual art form, despite completely lacking any serious knowledge on the topic, and I certainly respect any attempt to ignore the frighteningly ephemeral nature of our reality. Nevertheless, in almost any instance I avoid both the consumption and action of photography.
Or rather I did. Since being in Ireland I’ve done my best to take as many pictures as I can. I’ve taken pictures of my campus, of my local haunts, of my favorite trees, of my least favorite trees, and of any other number of mundane or mildly exceptional objects. I take pictures when I’m home, when I’m traveling, and only refrain from doing it when I’m sleeping because of practical constraints. I even have largely committed to appearing in photos, gracing many candid and planned photos with the dreadful weight of my presence. This change of heart has a few practical causes, like the unlimited data plan I can afford in Ireland and my current access to semi-modern cellular technology, but the largest change is less discreetly physical. Instead, it’s more a feeling that I am obligated to share the experience I am currently blessed with as a Mitchell Scholar.
I don’t actually save almost any of the photos I take. Instead they are almost universally deposited into a shared family Snapchat, which is embarrassingly titled “Peeples Phamily. No one else in the group chat has ever been to Ireland, or even really left the United States. They’ve never had the opportunity to see the sights I’ve seen in the last couple months, let alone do the things I’ve done. Since, unlike me, they don’t have any weird vendettas against photographs, they simply want to see as much of what I am up to as they can. It’s the closest they can get right now to the unique gift I’ve received for the year. For me, this commitment to documentation has served as a sort of small scale reminder of the need to spread the impact of the Mitchell and of the importance of Mitchell Scholars’ coming from communities of particular need. Families who haven’t been to Europe are not exactly the most oppressed group in America, and even they are underrepresented in many of America’s top scholarship cohorts. In a sense my evolution on photos is just a snapshot of my time in Ireland. You could say that my changing sensibilities about photography have left me shaken, shaken not unlike a Polaroid picture.
UPDATE: I remain bereaved as I mourn my friends the cows.