Jenna Caplette
  • photograph memories

Jenna CapletteJenna Caplette migrated from California to Montana in the early 1970s, first living on the Crow Indian reservation, then moving to Bozeman where she owned a downtown retail anchor for eighteen years. These days she owns Bozeman BodyTalk & Energetic Healthcare, hosts a monthly movie night, teaches and writes about many topics.

A few years ago, when wolves were still easy to spot in Yellowstone, a black trotted across the road in front of our car. As it came toward us, I grabbed my camera and started to shoot. 

He came. He went.

My images were out of focus. Not a single one of them was usable and I didn’t remember the experience of seeing that wolf at all. I just remembered obsessively snapping photos. 

Marsha Phillips, co-owner of Bozeman’s F-11 Photographic Supplies says, “Digital photography offers the ability to quickly take a lot of photographs. There’s an upside to that; the freedom to explore and experiment on how to capture the best images. The odds are good that you will capture a great image. 

“But, there’s a downside too. We’re amassing photographs without ever enjoying them. Unless you follow up, and edit your images, they become overwhelming.” There’s simply too many of them to wade through, it’s to easy to forget where that image of your daughter’s first time on a snowboard went, which camera card, which camera — your iPhone? 

“Very simply, most of us can’t find the image we want when we want it.”

Sometimes you just flat out miss an event because you were so engrossed with snapping photos you weren’t actually present. Most people still use photographs to document life as it happens, as a proof of life, a memory of something sweet, special, important, or just because.  However, in order to improve or save a memory you need to do more than click it and forget it. 

For instance, take a close up image and it will help you to see differently, experience familiar terrain in a new light, remember an object better. Your camera can help you see in ways you never imagined, it invites you to notice, to look, to see and to focus.

So, focusing in and slowing down help us to see and to remember. Then, you need to interact with your images after you take them.  To do that you need to know where they are.  Your photos need to be organized and backed up. At the very least, take advantage of one of the services for automatic back up, like iCloud. Once the art of archiving images is lost and the images are trapped in the form of anonymous ones and zeros on digital storage, the memories and enjoyment are lost with them.

To complete the photographic experience, there should be some kind of hard copy output like a print, photo book, metal wall art, stretched canvas, textiles or photo jewelry. What makes prints a good option for you in the digital age? They’re inexpensive, easy to share, easy to organize and easy to store. They last. Your prints can tell a story without an internet connection or an electronic device.  They are especially compelling if you’ve labelled them.  Maybe that’s why a good, old-fashioned photo album has been the chronicle of choice for family history since the invention of the photograph. 

Since I missed seeing that black wolf, I’ve changed how I relate to what I see in Yellowstone and often let an experience be just for my eyes and heart so I can revel in the joy and awe they bring. When I do get out my camera now, its generally for a slowly unfolding sunset or something I want to focus in on, a stationary detail in a larger scene. And then, truly, my camera helps me to see. 

The first photographs were not literal representations of the world: instead, they were an interpretation of it. Today, photographs taken on an iPhone and apped with Instagram portray that familiar style. We’ve come full circle in capture, but not in output or printing.  Do something really important to preserve your family history so it can be shared and tell the stories that connect the generations.  Make prints.  Organize and back up.  You don’t have to do it all today.  Just start.  Maybe it’s time for the photo albums to be retro cool. Try it. I’m going to.