Monday, March 10, 2008

Somewhere between living the moment and immortalizing it.

(Walk into the Paradise Garden by W. Eugene Smith)

I always wondered what was more important - to live the moment or to immortalize it. Nowadays, with the advent of digital photography, it is so easy to take a bundle of pix and just store them onto the hardrive of our computers. Photography isn't what it used to be - it isn't reserved for official occasions, it isn't a once-in-a-lifetime event like it was when it first emerged, and the limit between amateurs and pros is now blurred with what has been known as citizen reporting (People who with their mobiles are capturing images which are changing the face of communication forever).
This weekend, I encountered a moment I shall never forget, but which I can never share photographically. My nephew (Who will be 3 years old next June) and I went for a stroll - the weather was wonderful and he was being naughty inside. This scene took place at my village Daroun-Harissa where I go up for the weekend and where Youssef (His name) gets to spend the Saturdays.
As we were walking to the village's fountain, suddenly two donkeys pass by. Youssef's adrenaline went sky high and he insisted on following them. Which we did, only to discover that the donkeys were "parked" by the small boy who rode them on a rugged terrain.
But Youssef was so adamant at seeing them he wouldn't listen when I explained to him that there was almost no way for us to climb to see them. But climb we did, with his frail body attached to mine and me trying not to fall over with my ill-chosen Puma shoes.
Finally, we reached the two donkeys now taken care of by two boys. They were kind enough to let him play with the rope that led one of them, he inspected the donkey closely without touching him though ("J'ai peur" - I am afraid, he would say and cling on to my cargo pants)...
The colors of the donkeys were spectacular, and the field was such a lush green which contrasted wonderfully with my nephew's clothes - basically all the ingredients to make unforgetable photography. With just one problem: No camera in sight! I had left mine at hope as I did not expect anything so spectacular to happen.
Time elapsed and close to two hours were spent playing with donkeys with Youssef enjoying every second of it. My pleads for him to go back went unanswered until his energy dwindled and so I carried him back home - and in that ingratitude that characterizes children he answered when I asked him if he loved it: "Yes, but we should have played with the dog too...."
Back home he told everyone "I was playing with the horses" - when I reclified that he was playing with donkeys he said - "Yes, but we should not say bad words!" ("Donkey" being an insult in Arabic language as well).
All of this, without even a snap of a photo to remind him later of the day when he played with the donkeys... Will he remember? I wonder. Maybe the photo (Had it been taken) will fix a memory for him but also maybe he own remembrance will rework the details of the day (where the donkey would have another color and there would only be him and myself - not two other boys as well)....
To my only consolation, I can say that sometimes photographs do not depict real memories, the most stunning example is W. Eugene Smith's very famous "Walk into the Paradise Garden" - what looks like a casual photo of his children going into the garden in a moment of bliss was a photo that was rehearsed many times until the pace of the trot, the lighting and the angle of bushes was perfect.
Somewhere between living the moments and immortalizing them, we live our own mortality.
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