Sunday, July 7, 2013

The problem with zoo photos (and vacation photos in general)

A few weeks ago we met our good friends The Grovers at the Hogle Zoo for a morning of viewing the animals and catching up (We've known the Grovers since they became THE Grovers, and I've known Grover himself since we took a British Lit class together at BYU in 2004).  They were in SLC for a wedding and they had just enough time to squeeze us in to their busy trip schedule--and we were glad they could do it.

We met at the zoo parking lot about 9:30 AM and bought our tickets.  The heat was not yet what I would call "oppressive" when we entered the zoo, but it was on its way, so we were interested in seeing as much of the zoo as possible before it became unbearable (particularly for Emily Grover, who is about to have a baby).

How to chronicle a day at the zoo with two of your favorite people during the first major heatwave of the summer?  There are plenty of built in photo opportunities at the zoo.  Large animal statues to pose with, large real animals to use as backdrops, large groups of strangers to enlist to help take your picture. 
The bird show was my favorite part of the day (even with its choreographed fly-bys and over-wrought script and shameless plugs for donations--they have a bird trained to take dollar bills and put them in a donation box), but none of the photos I took came out.  None of the in-your-face shots of owls and eagles and cockatoos brushing our heads with their wings; none of the diving falcons, none of the graceful flocks of doves.
(This photo doesn't do justice to the sensation created by the doves as they swept by us as a group--how do they train them to do that?--and it doesn't do justice to the overall quality of the bird show, which really was something to behold, and it doesn't even do justice to the back of this guys head, whoever he is).
All I want to do, all most of us want to do, I think, when I pull out my camera on vacation, or at a piano recital or a baseball game, or at the zoo, is to capture a bit of the moment.  The concentrated energy and playfulness in the step of a three year old as he marches up the path, not yet old enough to know he should complain about the heat; the anticipation of a child who waits in line to stick his head through the wooden cut-out of a gorilla; the pleasure of sharing with good friends the novelty of an elephant doing a head stand while her trainer dangles a handful of fruit in front of her trunk (this feat actually occurred while we were watching the elephant show, but I missed seeing it and recording it because, that's right, I was fiddling  with my camera).

I think there is something more to it than memories though. Sure we want other people to know (else why all the instant sharing options on my camera phone, why else twitter and instagram and facebook, and this blog), but all that I think is secondary to the bigger issue: we want ourselves to know.  We want reassurances that we are really living, that we are taking the time to go and do and see, to visit old friends and give our children memories worth taking with them into adulthood.  And so we prop up the camera and set the timer and we squeeze everyone in and tell people to smile because we want to remember that on this day we got out of the house, we put down the work on our desks, we reached out to people important to us and we tried to live in ways that would make the philosophers and the prophets and our grandparents proud (even if we can't manage to keep our fingers out of the photo when we're trying to set the timer).
Thanks Emily and David for a fun morning.

1 comment:

Alyssa said...

Can I steal your last paragraph? I've never thought about it in so many words, but when I read it, it rang true. Love it!

Glad you all were able to enjoy friends and the zoo :).