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  • Saba Al-Mahadin

Why Photos Are a Trap

Updated: Jan 14

If a place is too neat, it gives me a sense of lack of spontaneity and imagination. I am a type of person who likes to create in a place where I can see and feel my thoughts engulfing me in a way that is liberating and challenging at the same time. I do tidy up my space every once in a while just to know how far I have come with my creations but never to get my mind imprisoned by shelves, drawers or even storage boxes. That will never be my reality.

Last week, it was one of those days I had scheduled to sort out my notebooks, sticky notes, sketches, and old pieces of paper that have surely survived the test of time. It never ceases to amaze me how many thoughts and ideas my mind contemplates and questions on daily basis. As I was organizing my files, I stumbled upon an old photo of my 16-year old self. I remember that photo clearly; the date, the clothes, my long lush hair but what caught my attention was the look in my eyes.

People in the past, myself included, used to go to professional photographers to get their photos taken. Those days were exciting and people would do their best to bring out their inner feelings of exhilaration onto the still photos. After all, that “stillness” documents a time that everyone wants to archive for the next generations to see.

“Tilt to the left, now to the right, look straight at the camera, look away, pretend you are thinking, pretend you are dreaming, pretend you are playing, open your eyes, smile, smile more…ok that is it”. I was never sure what the photographer was trying to capture or even what he was hoping to find in the subject in front of him, but I trusted that he knew what he was doing because of all the different requests he would ask and all the different poses he would suggest based on the first question he asks you: what is this photo for? A yearbook? a driver’s license? a travel visa?, as if each reason should show a different version of the same person. However, we would willingly do as they say.

Growing up, I never had an issue with having my photo taken professionally or randomly; however, that feeling started to fade away in my late 20s onward and I became uninterested when I realized that not many moments are captured truthfully. So I made a conscious choice not to be in a photo unless it tells how I truly feel; a genuine happiness, sadness in the eyes or ache in the soul. I never cared what the photo would say about me as long as it portrays the truth; a photo should not reflect how I “seem” happy or whatever but it should reflect why I look the way I look.

Of all the photos I have accumulated over the years, only 3 of them made it to my favorite list; the first one when I was five years old with short curly hair and a wide smile that could light up the room. I don’t remember any details related to the photo but I know that the person in the photo is me; carefree, adventurous and rebellious. The second is when I was 16 years old; rawness in the eyes, hopeful in the smile, and curious in the silence. The last one is when I was 42 years old where I was still all of the above but the only difference now is that I am still untouched by the noise around.

No matter how many photos you take or how many memories you make, the question remains: are you still the same authentic person who did not know life as a child but loved it unconditionally? Did not know heartbreak at 16 but believed that love conquers all no matter what? Did not know what is around at the corner as an adult but trusted that what comes later will be as fulfilling and worthy?

We change, that is true, but why choose to reminisce the old if you believe you are sill that kid or that teenager or that adult in the photo 50 or even 100 years later?.

Memories are not lost moments; it is the loss of the self that we choose to deny to admit to ourselves and it is our own doing regardless of whatever life throws at us. So make new moments not new memories because memories even if they are beautiful, they still keep you stuck in times that are long gone. Memories make you feel older but moments are ageless.

Leave your phone, your camera, and simply capture your authentic self with your heart before you get caught up in the lens and ask yourself: is it really “I” in the photo?

And only then, you will realize that the self is more precious than a photo album.


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