Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo

When I was in 5th grade, my parents thought I was too young to own a camera but not too young to capture memories. So my mother let me borrow one of her cameras—the old kind with the cube flash and with a plastic film cartridge. My words fail to describe what exactly that is. You’d have to google it to see what I mean. But it was there and it worked.

Anyone who remembers what it was like to shoot with film, would also know how carefully we took photos back then. After all, we were always limited with 12, 24 or 36 shots, give or take a few. And so it was always with a little bit of anxiety that we waited for days for the film to develop. It was a tragedy to find out that your entire roll had been exposed, or worse, that most of your photos had you smiling with your eyes awkwardly half-closed. But we lived with that because that’s what we had.

Many young people these days no longer know what it is like to have a photo taken and not see the results immediately. They no longer know what a “sure shot” means either since, with instant feedback, all shots are sure. They definitely have it easier.

Although, I have also noticed a strange phenomenon that has come with the digital camera: It seems to me that these days a lot of people are more hung up on capturing their memories than they actually are making memories. Attend any party or gathering, take a trip or spend a special occasion with someone and you will find that a lot more time is spent on posing for pictures than actually having a conversation. I wonder if this is only a Filipino thing. Or if it happens elsewhere.

Whenever I look at old albums, I only have a page or two of photos or every special occasion and in many cases none at all because the occasion just sort of crept up on me. So I have small mementos of those instead— a note, a receipt, a chocolate wrapper. And the rest, my mind has had to capture its own images. I remember things, not with the sharp, unforgiving eye of the camera lens but with my subjective, sentimental mind’s eye. And truth be told, I like it better that way.

These days, I could come out of one occasion with literally hundreds of photographs of me smiling but I wouldn’t really remember what we were smiling about. After all these years, I have come to the conclusion that I’d much rather smile at people than smile at the camera.

So whenever I’m celebrating a special occasion, or taking a trip or being around people who are special to me, I make more of an effort not to be so preoccupied with how I’ll look in the shot or run over to whoever has a camera pointed at a group of people. Instead, I take more time to speak with those around me, soak up the atmosphere and take mental shots of moments that make me feel grateful to be alive. At the end of my life, I’d much rather have a life filled with memories, more than a life filled with photographs.

About Nancy Unchuan Toledo

When Nancy started teaching high school at age 21, she didn’t really think she’d make a career out of it. She was right. Ten years later and she realized teaching isn’t her career, it’s her passion. Writing is her passion, too, and she writes a bi-monthly column for the Freeman. Mostly she writes about her family, her friends, her students, her experiences in teaching, her love of books and her faith. Because those are the things that she cares about the most–although not necessarily in that order.

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