Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The day Obama waved to us - but I didn't see him!!

I have recently started a Coursera course entitled The Camera Never Lies.  It's about film, images & historical interpretation in the 20th century.  As one of the pre-course readings, we were sent an article from the BBC website called Are Smartphones Killing Memories?  This is the video which accompanied the article:

It made for a fascinating read and watch, and raised some interesting questions about the mass use of photographic equipment in the 21st century. It is evident that the vast majority of people these days feel the need to record every event, no matter how trivial.  As a keen photographer myself, though not a smartphone user, I'm as guilty as the next person of taking hundreds of photos of significant happenings in my life as well as places I visit and people I love.  I have never really questioned the wisdom of my behaviour - whether or not witnessing everything through a camera lens is actually witnessing it at all.  

This film, however, reminded me of an occasion a few years ago.  We were living in Istanbul at the time.  Barack Obama had just been elected for his first term of office and he was on his first overseas trip, which took in our adopted city.  I have to confess that we had no intention of trying to see the new President.  In fact, on that morning, we had completely forgotten he was in town and were on our way to the Museum of Modern Art.  
The streets seemed unusually quiet and, as we made our way across the Bosphorus Bridge, the penny suddenly dropped as a cavalcade of armoured vehicles swept by, one of which was carrying Obama.  We didn't know where he was heading, not being privy to his itinerary, but, once on the other side of the bridge, it became clear that his destination was the city's ancient university.  We decided to go and see if we could catch a glimpse of him - after all, it was a historic moment.  

By the time we arrived at the university, the President had already entered the building.  We learned that he was to have a Q & A session with a group of selected students, followed by lunch.  We decided to wait to see him when he emerged, and found what we believed to be the best vantage point.  

After about ninety minutes, to a ripple of polite applause (the Turks were not big on American Presidents at the time!), Obama left the building and walked to the waiting car.  Once in the car, he lowered the window, and, as he drove off, he looked directly at my husband and I, waved and gave a broad smile.  I'm able to tell you that this is what happened because my husband said it did.  I saw the President as he exited the building and then ...... nothing else!!  I was too busy trying to focus my camera, zoom in on the great man, and get a great shot.  I failed on all counts!!  It was over all too quickly.  I saw nothing.  I didn't capture the moment.  I have no memories of the time Obama waved at us, except vicariously (via my husband)!

So, perhaps, things are better experienced by watching and committing them to memory, rather than trying to use a camera to capture them for posterity? Perhaps, but I don't think I'll be giving up my camera just yet!!


  1. Thanks for this Andrea. I have a video of my wedding where both of my parents are madly taking photos of my bride walking down the aisle, despite an official photographer, a videographer and loads of other people on hand to capture the moment. They were both quite shocked when they watched it later. It was a clear illustration of how powerful the drive to photograph significant events can be.

    I am interested in the relationship between photography and memory and was wondering if you would consider adding your thoughts on recording and experience to my project page: http://timfawns.com/wordpress/?p=448

    I would be grateful for any help. Regards,

    Tim Fawns

  2. This was an interesting post to read. I can relate to this habit too. I sometimes feel the urge to take a photo or two, in cinema, and even during a live performance at a theatre.

    I came across your blog on Twitter, since I too am taking this course. Really liking the lectures so far.