Having spent close to three decades on this blue-green planet, I must say that I’ve had my fair share of sunrises, and sunsets. Honestly, the ‘rises’ dwarf the ‘sets’ in number only because most of the latter get drowned in the backdrop of my evening commute from office, or one of the many Zoom calls that await my attention while I work from home.
If by this point in time, you are still ignorant of that little blue-coloured video-camera icon on your phone or laptop, then you are one of these three things –A. An extremely anti-social animal, teetering on the brink of psychotic behaviour B. A very underprivileged member of society, for whom Whatsapp was and is the invention of the millennium C. An over-the-top privileged member of society, who cannot see past the tiny green coloured symbols that represent the luxury known as iMessage and FaceTime
But once again, I digress for the sake of comic relief. The focal point of this discussion is the ‘sunset’. Rare as the phenomenon is to my eye, I usually find myself thoroughly captivated by the medley of yellow, orange and red splattered across the sky without a discernible border. Back in the 2000s, this used to be the highlight of every trek and expedition that I ever undertook. We would walk a few miles across lush landscapes, find a cosy spot under a gracefully ageing banyan tree, and then look out to the horizon as nature began to taint the sky with the soft hues of a day well spent.
Poetic right? – – cough – –
That is what USED to happen in the 2000s before a handy little device called the ‘smartphone’ revolutionalized the photography industry. And yes, I am specifically going to single out the smartphone and not the traditional camera, because irrespective of its invention since the early 1800s, photography only became a disease once Apple, Sony, and Samsung made it commonplace.
Yes, remember Sony? They used to make those quite attractive smartphones with Carl Zeiss lenses and questionable software. Well, today, while the lenses continue to sell themselves to other manufacturers as critical components, their phone business is on the verge of an unceremonious death, thanks to that same questionable software.
The ‘selfie disorder’ aside, in general, phone cameras have changed the way we perceive the simplest of activities that we engage in on a day-to-day basis. While real-time translations, QR code scanning, and live portraits have significantly improved the quality of life, there are other places where having an accessible camera has only distanced us further from reality.
But let’s return to the issue on sunsets. Nature hasn’t changed one bit in the past ten years, except for the rampant growth in population, pollution and prosecution! The sun still sets at some time between 5.30 and 7.30 pm local time, and the sky still has the same poetic hues that I described above. The only difference is that now I am looking at the same sunset through the viewfinder in my camera app instead of my winced naked eye.
And don’t tell me that you don’t wince your eyes when you directly look at a sunset! The only person in history to have stared point-blank at the sun and not blinked is Mr Narayan Shankar as portrayed by Amitabh Bachchan in Mohabbatein, the highly Indianized saga ‘inspired’ by Dead Poets Society.
Indeed, our instinct to immortalize every moment of life in the form of a photo does have some merit. In an average life that spans over sixty years, how many sunsets can you vividly remember? Three, or maybe ten, that too if all of them are associated with a significant life event of equivalent magnitude. What about the other sunsets? Are they supposed to be a ‘one-time-watch’ event only?
This dilemma is similar to the difference between owning the Director’s Cut of Gladiator v/s recording every movie that plays on your local cable network using a DVR such as TiVo or TataSky. You may want to own five to ten Director’s Cuts, but you end up recording every other movie only because you have the superfluous gigs of storage!
Hence, to answer the above question, I used the very convenient search feature in Google Photos to filter all photos that feature a ‘sunset’. The app returned some hundred and fifty photos spread over the past five years. A hundred and fifty sunsets! I mean even if I exclude duplicates, accidental clicks, unusable images and outright blurry messes, I’m still left with some forty-odd ‘sundowns’ to consider. How many of those would I want to hang on my wall?
Seven, that’s it.
How many of those seven did I remember anyway? Five.
So, to capture the two other meaningful sunsets, I went on a shutter rampage for five years, neither enjoying those moments nor clicking photos that were good enough to be used later.
And THAT is the issue with the phone camera. Our first trigger to use the camera is not to take a good photo, but to make sure the moment is retrievable later. And while that decision might make logical sense at the moment, its long term validity is often short-lived.
It’s good that cameras have gotten more accessible and superior in recent times, but that does not replace the fundamental reason for owning one in the first place! We don’t realize that in the bid to capture mediocre photos of every moment in life, we deny ourselves the opportunity to associate real-life significance to some of them. The first time you held your wife’s hands by a sunset, or maybe the first time you traced your kid’s footsteps on the sand. These are fleeting memories that may disappear as quickly as they appeared if you have one eye fixated on the camera.
So the next time you find yourself staring at a sunset, and you wince your eyes, keep the phone firmly in your pocket and have a look around. You never know what might lead to a lifelong memory that Google Photos cannot capture and tag.
Because, believe me when I say this – there aren’t enough GBs of storage in the cloud for you to fill-up with crappy photos, and there aren’t enough sundowns in life to stop creating memories just yet!