On Henry Diltz and Capturing Memories

joni-mitchell

In the early ‘60s, long before he captured some of the most iconic images in rock and roll, Henry Diltz was just a kid taking photos of his friends. He wanted to be a fly on the wall, wanted to capture them acting as they naturally would. Laughing, eating, hanging out — whatever caught his eye. There’s a certain kind of authenticity and honesty to a Henry Diltz photo. It’s raw. It catches an aura that cannot be faked. In a way, they are all more than just photos. They’re captured memories.

Hearing Henry Diltz speak about his work is maybe as close to stepping in a time machine as any millennial is going to get. Because you relive the moments with him. Although his photos tell small bits of stories themselves, he’s more than willing to give you the rest.

Which makes me think about my generation and one common criticism of it:

Put your phone away.

Yes. Put your phone away. Live in the moment. Make memories. Stop Instagramming everything. Fuck your selfies. Why do you have to document your every move?

Why? Because we want to. More importantly: because we can.

Really, a lot of millennials are not so different from Henry Diltz. Using our phones — more often than not — we are capturing what inspires us, what we find beautiful, what we do with our time, and who our friends are. The biggest difference (I mean, aside from the obvious fact that none of us compare to Henry Diltz) is ease and accessibility. We have the ability to carry around a high quality camera in our pockets, and that’s pretty powerful.

We are privileged to have technology our parents and our grandparents didn’t have, and my god, we are going to take advantage of it. Plenty of people took photos incessantly in the pre-digital age, and we’re fascinated by it. One only needs to look at recent exhibitions of Stevie Nicks’s polaroids or Pattie Boyd’s personal photos of George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and their gang of rock star friends.. We are fascinated, and we are thirsty for more.

For average people, though, that level of documentation was not possible. Film was expensive. Cameras were bulky. What we have is cheap and easy, and it produces quality work. Why would we not advantage of that?

Because what if, one day, we tell our children about those hilariously disastrous hairstyles we wore, or that amazing party we went to, or that beautiful boy or girl we went out with, and when they ask to see pictures, we have nothing to give them?

Humans are a visual species. I mean, even cavemen used pictures to tell their stories. Our words are wonderful and descriptive and lovely, but sometimes you need to actually see. Sometimes, our imaginations and the picture shows we keep in our minds are not enough.

Our memories are going to fade. It’s a fact of life. One day, I will no longer remember the emotion in a particular performance at one of the many Fleetwood Mac concerts I went to. They’ll all have bled together. But I’ll have videos and photos I took, and I will be able to see them and instantly transport back to the moment. And then I’ll remember how I felt and what I was thinking and how I was affected. I’ll be able to share them.

I’m not saying these adult criticisms are wrong. But they’re not entirely right. By all means — live in the moment. But don’t forget to capture it every now and then.

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