The Here and Now

By Anna Cimbalista, 13 July, 2023

I was celebrating the 4th of July recently (happy birthday, America), and naturally, with any huge celebration, fireworks are involved. I have been obsessed with fireworks from a young age. My grandpa was obsessed with counting things, and since I was obsessed with my grandpa, I started counting things, too. We’d watch the firework show together as a family, and when we’d come home, my grandpa and I would debate about how many fireworks were shot off.

I believe that I remember more details about this 4th of July than last 4th of July, and maybe that’s because last year was, well, a year ago. Our memories certainly degrade with time. But ask me in a year, and I believe I’ll be able to tell you more details about this 4th of July than I can now about last year’s. And I think this is largely because last year, I was focused on taking photos, and this year I was focused on experiencing. Neither one is bad, but I think, in general, I need to take more time to experience and worry less about immortalizing what I’m experiencing.

Photo taken 4 July, 2022

Counting wasn’t all I was obsessed with. “Obsessed” is the word I’m obsessed with apparently because I was also obsessed with my sister’s camera. I remember being about ten years old and watching my sister photograph and video the fireworks on the camera I so wished I owned.

As soon as I got a phone, I was photographing everything, fireworks included. Side note, who actually goes back to watch those videos? Be honest. When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. One firework show is no different than the others. When I realized that, I stopped taking so many pictures of fireworks and started to just enjoy myself, living in the moment.

Last 4th of July was the first celebration that I had with my current Canon camera, and since I had learned to do long exposures, I was thrilled to see that it worked on fireworks. I was insanely proud of the results, and all I wanted that night was to photograph fireworks because it was new and exciting, something that took a little bit more skill than snapping a photo with a phone

This 4th of July, I went to watch the fireworks, like the majority of America. As a photographer, I had a choice. I could feed my photographic addiction and be obsessed with getting the perfect photo of colored fire falling from the sky (and who isn't?), or I could leave my camera and have no choice but to sit and watch. Knowing I had taken good photos the previous year and thinking I didn’t need new ones any time soon, I chose the latter. Instead of living the night behind the lens, focusing more on the photographic result than enjoying the moment, I sat in my folding chair and soaked up everything I could. The mosquitos were a natural nuisance, and like my camera, the bug spray had been left behind. I could hear the people behind me conversing and “oo”ing and “ah”ing with every firework. Every time I thought about regretting my decision, I told myself that sometimes you just need to live and let live.

There’s a fine line between being obsessed and not letting your addiction run your life, whatever it may be. Oftentimes our addictions prevent us from enjoying life as it really is. “Just one more photo.” “Why does something cool happen every time I forget my camera?” Too many times I kick myself for leaving my camera behind when I think I don’t need it and end up running into something stellar. That’s a burden I have to live with as a photographer. If I bring my camera, I risk missing out on life. If I don’t bring my camera, I risk not capturing a magical moment, and I’ve done plenty of both. It’s hard to determine the balance, and I’m still finding my way. How does one decide whether to take photos or to let it be? Can you do both? Usually when I “live in the moment” it’s because I forgot my camera, and telling myself to enjoy the here and now is the coping mechanism I use to keep myself from feeling guilty. Sometimes I’ll watch the moment slipping away and I’ll try to engrain every little detail in my brain so that “I can paint it later.” But I never do. Why do we often figure out ways to prolong the moment? Why don’t we just recognize that it doesn’t last forever, accept that, and enjoy it while we can?

As humans, we’re social creatures, and we need others to live. Everyone knows that sharing something you love with someone you love is exciting and fulfilling. I’ll often start a movie, realize it’s good, and wait to finish it until I can watch it with someone else (this means I often only watch mediocre movies by myself, unfortunately). When I find a delicious recipe, I can’t wait to make it for someone so they can share in its goodness. When I invent a solution to a problem, I get excited and want to tell someone so they can share in its genius. I think this is why I find it so hard to acceptably live in the moment, especially when I’m alone because I want to share the moment with people I know and love. Taking a photo is a way to immortalize the moment, pocket it away for the time being, and take it back out to reminisce or to share it with someone. This isn’t something new that’s been the result of easy access photography. This has been happening for all of time. Artwork, in all mediums, has been used to keep alive memories. And there’s nothing wrong with that per se, I just think that, for me personally, I know I need to let that part of me go a little bit. While we’re social creatures, we’re also experiencing and sensing creatures. And how can you fully experience something and take note of your senses if you’re worrying about capturing the moment to save for later? If you don’t experience the moment, what is it that you’re actually saving for later? Some people take photos so they don’t forget the good times, but I read once that you remember more when you DON’T take photos. This makes sense to me because your brain has to work harder to do its job at remembering when it doesn’t have something else to rely on. If it knows you’re just gonna take a photo anyway, why would it try to remember every detail? I’ve tested this out for myself, and I find it to be pretty accurate. Everyone is different, though, this is just my experience.

~ Anna C. Photography