The Art of Slowing Down
If you were to open the photo gallery in your phone right now, how many of the images on the screen that immediately opens would you say is a “keeper.” A “keeper” in the sense that if you stumbled upon it 5 years from now you’d smile and say to yourself, “Oh, I remember that time.”
The opening screen of my photo gallery are mostly screenshots of meme’s, funny text conversations, photos of things I needed to remember for a later time (like a grocery list), and even some blank photos from accidental pictures taken inside of my pockets.
When it comes to the photos saved on my phone, it just feels like 90% of them aren’t memorable.
I never took a photography class while in school. I began teaching myself the basics of film photography only a few years ago. I started by learning how to load film and fiddle with dials on cameras made over 30 years ago.
The process is slow. When I wanted to snap a picture, I had to measure the light with a lightmeter, set the right combination of aperture on the lens with shutter speed on the camera, then finally manually focus the subject before clicking the button to preserve the image on precious film. In many cases, the scene I wanted to capture had already changed by the time I was ready to shoot my photo.
Because of this, it was hard to find things to take photos of. I captured mostly empty intersections, the outside facades of buildings, and empty park benches. These are scenes that stayed still for a while—sometimes forever—at least long enough for me to capture what my eye initially stumbled upon.
When it came to developing my film, I found an old Polish family-owned photo lab in Greenpoint. It would take 24-hours to get color film back, and sometimes a week for black and white. I can’t tell you how anxious I got in that time to find out whether or not I was doing things correctly.
Not only that, it wasn’t cheap. For 36 photos I was spending in total about $20. About $5 for the roll of film, plus $15 to get it developed along with physical prints of the photos. Getting the physical copies are important. I kept them in a shoebox, just like the “old days.”
I recently looked through it to see some of the photos I took about 3 years ago, just when I started learning. All of those empty intersections, outer building facades, empty park benches—I realized that those photos just wouldn’t have the same magic if I snapped them in exactly the same way on my iPhone.
They just feel different.
I believe the beauty in these scenes—that can’t be replicated in digital form—are a direct result of slowing down. I stopped and took the time to consider what was in front of me before I decided I wanted to save it in a more permanent way. I can somehow feel it in the photos.
The art of slowing down is often lost in the nature of our technology today.
On our phones, our minds can simultaneously be on 5 other tasks alongside our camera. We wouldn’t have the presence of mind to capture the same scenes, nor would we stop to consider alternative angles than the one that occurs immediately in our path. We’re always in a rush and want to get things done quickly and instantly. Our attention is spread across multiple different things, than wholly on one thing.
Our tools are also instant gratifiers and dramatically lower the stakes of failure. Photography nowadays is as easy as holding down a button, taking 300 photos of a moment, looking at them later to find the exact instant in time you like best, then throwing out the 299 other failures.
Because our tools allow us to be less precious about what is wasted—what we decide to keep and what we decide to create also becomes less valuable to us.
What becomes memorable are the moments you slowed down and took more time to consider before deciding to save.
Through my experience with photography, I’ve taught myself to realize when I should maybe slow down in other aspects of my life in order to bring out the hidden beauty.
Here’s my quick guide for when I might consider slowing things down:
- When “failure” is normalized in favor of quick results
- When what I’m doing uncomfortably feels like it’s losing significance
- When I feel overwhelmed juggling too many things at once
Being less precious may help us get shit done and yield quicker results. Being more precious and slowing things down can help keep the magic alive.
Know when to practice the art of slowing down in your own endeavors.