Do Pictures Make Our Lives Better?

Back in 1824, Joseph Niépc took the first photograph ever – a view looking out the window of his home in France.  Here it is:

First Photo

That may have been the first photograph, but believe me, it wasn’t the last, though I’d venture to opine many taken since are hardly more interesting. 

188 years later, us humans take photos at prodigious rates.  According to a recent USA Today article (dated June, 2012) over 300 million photos are being uploaded to Facebook per day.

That’s over 100 billion photos per year being uploaded just to Facebook!

I’m as guilty as the next person, having snapped over 10,000 pics in the last year alone.

It’s easy to go crazy with digital cameras.  When I was a kid back in the stone age of film cameras I remember only getting 24 exposures per roll, and couldn’t see what they looked like until after they developed.  Couldn’t take so many back then.

But I wonder, what are all these photos doing for me?  I take time to shoot them, I take time to organize and store them, I purchase hard drives to hold them, I may or may not take time to view them later.

Yeah, they tell a story, but couldn’t I tell a story in writing? or better yet, in person?  Yeah, they may impress someone (there I am, standing in front of x, y, or z), but is that necessary?  Yeah, photos capture events, but isn’t that what God gave us memories for? 

Speaking of events, the cost of shooting weddings usually runs between $1,000 and $5,000 dollars.  Photography is big business.  In more ways than one.  If we didn’t have photos we might not have billboards.  Or risqué magazines at every convenience store checkout.  Or worse.

Most the world never had cameras, and they seemed to have got along fine without them.  We tend to think of the “old days” being in black and white, but before 1824 there wasn’t even black and white!  All they had was cave art scratched with burnt sticks.  And Michael de Angelo.

As I examine my own motives, I become suspiciously aware that vanity plays the larger part in my desire to have good photos of myself.  And pride and impressing others a good deal to do with many of the rest.

Of course, I’m not saying it’s all bad.  I’ve taken sunset pictures from nature, for example, which were nice to look at later, and fun to set as my desktop background.

Yet, I think taking pictures pulls me away from the present.  It focuses my attention on capturing “the moment” so as to live it again in the future.  Then in the future looking back at them, I’m again dwelling on the past. 

How often have we missed the real moment in our exuberance to get that elusively perfect shot?

This post isn’t meant to condemn cameras as “bad,” per se.  Surely they have their good points.  I enjoy taking pictures as a hobby.

But I’m beginning to wonder if it’s all a bit much?  Maybe photos are overrated?  Cameras weren’t given to us by God as standard equipment with birth (eyes were) so they must not be essential. We don’t have any pictures of Jesus with his 12 disciples…  I’m wondering if all this photographic wizardry of modern man is a clever ploy for my time to be distracted from things more important?

I don’t know, what do you think?

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6 thoughts on “Do Pictures Make Our Lives Better?”

  1. I like pictures. I like it when people like you go on trips and not only tell about them in words, but enhance them with the pictures. I can assure you I will never make it to many, if any, of the places you visited so it’s a great way to see the world God made. It’s also much more interesting because someone I know was there–and you don’t even have to be in all the pictures for them to be interesting. 🙂

    Now, taking pictures just to upload them to facebook? Yeah, that’s overrated. We don’t need to see zillions of pictures of people’s faces with strange make-up or crazy expressions or, worse, sexual overtones. I certainly don’t need to see pictures of what people are eating. (Every so often someone posts a picture of their food that actually looks good–and I’m also guilty of posting a few pictures of what I’ve eaten, so I’m not blameless.)

    Also, I have a notoriously bad memory. Pictures are nice for reminding me of life when my kids were younger or, my goodness, when *I* was younger. Pictures aren’t essential but they sure are a great gift.

  2. Hmmm… this is very thought provoking.
    As I read your comments I found myself becoming defensive, almost offended.
    My learning style, and analytic and artistic aptitudes are all very visually oriented. Photography being a favorite hobby of mine, this post really snagged my attention.
    When I realized irritation had ignited within me, I was surprised. Knowing this post wasn’t meant to condemn anyone or anything, I thought to myself, “This is dumb. Why am I irritated?”
    After taking inventory, I came up with this:
    ~Righteous indignation; contempt for all the ways pictures are used for evil.
    ~Self-recognition and conviction; embarrassment knowing I sometimes let photos (and other people or hobbies) consume my time (including my time with God).
    But, determination to refocus and correct the imbalance; to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind. To be like Mary, sitting at his feet, making my time and relationship with him priority. To remember and purposely pursue “taking every thought captive”, and “forgetting those things which are behind… press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

    I guess that doesn’t really answer your, “what do you think” question, though. 🙂

    Well, with each passing year, I am more and more aware that Satan will use any and everything as a “ploy,” trying to distract me from my Heavenly Father and the priorities He has given me.
    But, My God is greater than Satan’s tricks!! 😀 If I ask for and seek His wisdom, discernment, and power, I can be more than a conqueror. Photography (or anything else) will only be a distraction if I allow it to be.

  3. The argument that “if God intended us to fly, he’d have made us with wings”, is bogus. (one could spend all day listing the things that our body should have been equipped with had God wanted it) He designed the world with the capacity to have amazing things to invent and humans with the uncanny ability to work hard and discover those items. Photographic equipment is included among those things. I say that pictures and picture taking are nearly essential to daily life today! Many people, myself included are visual learners. Without pictures, it would be incredibly difficult to learn new things. Think about the way certain pictures have changed attitudes of entire groups of pictures. (Check out this website for examples ) We are so prone to forgetting! My family and I enjoyed the past 2 nights watching some of our home movies. It’s unreal the things that i had forgotten and would never would have remembered had it not been for pictures (and moving pictures as well) There were tears coming down my face as I saw my children as young babes in all their drooling glory! Don’t take the abuse or misuse of something as grounds for it to be labeled as bad or not needed. May Facebook’s main server get struck by lighting and their surge protectors fail, deleting all the world’s sorry poor pictures then for photography itself to go away!

  4. Wow, a plethora of commented ideas, thanks for the additional perspectives!

    @Krista – I’ll remember not to post pictures of me eating at Ghengis Grill or some other tasty restaurant!

    @Amanda – Glad this got you thinking. What I mostly had in mind with this post was realizing how I tend to zone out of what’s going on right around me in order to get a “great picture.” I’ll be with my nieces at the park, for example, and instead of playing with them might be standing back trying to nab a great candid with my telephoto lens!

    @Danny – Interesting analogy about how God didn’t make us with wings, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fly in airplanes. You’re right that technology itself isn’t inherently bad, but don’t you think it is scary how dependent we so quickly become to it?

    Guess my bottom line point is I believe we can live fulfilled lives without cameras, the internet, television, airplanes, playdough, whatever (all recent inventions) because true meaning and contentment come not through knowledge, gizmos, and entertainment, but (I think) in the process of hard work and meaningful relational connections.

  5. “Guess my bottom line point is I believe we can live fulfilled lives without cameras, the internet, television, airplanes, playdough, whatever (all recent inventions) because true meaning and contentment come not through knowledge, gizmos, and entertainment, but (I think) in the process of hard work and meaningful relational connections.”


  6. I appreciate your thoughts in this article because you are voicing many of my same thoughts. I think we get into traps of comparing ourselves with one another which the Word of God forbids us to do. I heard recently that our pride needs to be broken so we don’t care so much about what other people think. The excessive devotion and obsession with pictures to me is akin to idol worship. A few pictures of family and friends is fine, but let’s not be gluttons in this area. Pictures of nature & animals, I feel are better, because we are not apt to compare ourselves with these kinds of topics, although, if we elevate these images above God, then it could be a problem also. We need to know what “presses our idol worship buttons ” and then let it go.
    Part of our problem is we want to be like everyone else, and then, interestingly enough, we get lost in the shuffle.
    I think this topic that you have raised does need more discussion in the future! Thanks for opening our eyes a little bit more!

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