In my youth, I was a surf travel ascetic. No technology. No cameras. I was there to experience the moment – not document it. I wanted to see holistically – instead of deal in the outright lies and half-truths that kodachrome froze in 1/1000th of a second. It was an era before laptops and cellphones. I left my walkman at home – I wanted to strip all the insulation away; I yearned to hear and see the true foreign world around me.
The result? I don’t have any photos from those first few teenage surf trips. My laughable idealism may have resulted in slightly purer moments, but as I get older, and the trips pile up, I find it harder and harder to remember those lost victories.
Memory becomes dependent upon the images. Our modern lives are fueled by distributed cognition: gigabytes keep track of memories that long-term memory used to safeguard. As a child, I knew the phone numbers of friends and family by heart. Now my iPhone remembers them for me. The actual digits have become irrelevant.
In a more perverse way, my memories of surf trips are partly stored in the photos I take. My recollections and the images begin to cling to each other in a sticky, drunken dance as the years pass on.
I remember the lies the photos tell me, instead of the truth of the trip itself. A good crop and edit remove so many undesirables: One frozen peeler replaces one hundred closeouts. Weeks of rain are washed away by the ten bright clear minutes I put eye to lens.
My lesson? Learn how to take better photos. In hindsight, all my surf trips will improve.
Here’s a first attempt at pruning the last two weeks of my life.