Last month my husband and I visited Spain, first spending a couple days in a Mediterranean beach town, then one night in Barcelona followed by a couple days in Granada.
I took over 1,500 photos. Most of them look like this:
While the image of the couple embracing on the beach was the perfect moment to capture along the Mediterranean Sea, I didn’t want tourists in my other photographs, especially at the Alhambra. My husband stood patiently beside me, sometimes for a few minutes at a time, while I waited to capture photographs in between tourists passing by. I’d focus the lens, wait, say to myself “keep walking, keep walking, turn the corner, and…” SNAP.
This is what that resort town really looked like:
This is what you’ll actually see when you visit the cathedral in Barcelona’s gothic neighborhood:
This was often my view of the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra in Granada:
If you look only at the pictures on my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, you would believe that every moment of my time in Spain was spent in romantic solitude with my husband and the occasional un gato (I’m told that’s cat in Spanish).
The truth is…that the truth is hard. It doesn’t always photograph well. An image of the first hotel with its painfully flat pillows, its astro-turf lawns, and its utter lack of air conditioning doesn’t make a good impression on Instagram, even if I select the right filter. A picture of me jet lagged, missing my children desperately, suffering from an across the globe bout of PMS, and crying on my husband’s chest in bed one night doesn’t look nearly as nice as this:
Aren’t we sweet? And we really are. That was a real moment. I’m smirking more than kissing, but that smirk is really me, that emotion really mine. But so was the homesickness. So was the exasperation when we kept bumping into the same angry panhandler. So was the crankiness that there was no AC in the first hotel (seriously, it was stifling, people…).
What I chose to capture for posterity and share with the world, however, existed only inside the parameters of the carefully pointed lens, the camera tilted up just slightly to stay above the heads of the tour groups, the moment timed just perfectly to keep the tourists out of my moment with 9th century history. Those people were still around me, smoking their cigarettes, talking too loudly, their children whining and shoving each other.
Yes, my reality included the beautiful images I captured.
But it also included the noise and messiness that comes along with living life.
I couldn’t help but think about the way I carefully crafted the images I took in Spain when reading an article about University of Pennsylvania student Madison Holleran. It begins,
In January of last year, Madison Holleran jumped from the top of a 9th story parking garage and ended her life. Her mom remembers noticing how happy Madison looked in her Instagram photos. I imagine she found peace in those photos, that they helped push away the nagging feeling of concern she had for her daughter’s emotional health.
In the last couple of months, multiple people have said to me some variation of, “I can tell that you’re doing great because you seem so happy on Facebook lately.”
Insert: sad, peaceful, rested, joyful, anxious, upset, angry, tired, “better”. I’ve heard them all depending on which posts are seen by which people on which days.
These statements frustrate me. At times they infuriate me. I work in social media marketing. I have lived, eaten, slept, breathed the carefully crafted tweet, the beautifully taken photograph, the craftily filtered Facebook status. Hell, I helped to invent the field of
manipulating marketing through social media. The idea that anyone takes a snippet of my life that they see on Facebook – a passing thought, a moment in time, a sarcastic comment, a reaction to an article read, an image that took three seconds to see, capture, share, and forget – and draws some conclusion about my mental health or general well-being is laughable.
The people who know me best are the ones who call me. The ones who have a private conversation with me via text. The ones who drop by my house and sit with me on my deck or in my living room or at the nail salon or across the table with a glass of wine and a great meal.
I remember being a student at the University of Pennsylvania. I remember missing my boyfriend, with whom I had just spent the summer before he flew to Austin and I drove to Philly where we would spend the next twelve months apart. I remember missing my roommates, my friends from undergrad who had scattered to the wind. I remember feeling trapped in my one room apartment. I remember being scared to suffer through panic attacks on the 10th floor of my apartment building, praying that it would never get so bad that I would want to jump from the fire escape that was right outside my apartment door.
I remember being terrified that I would become a University of Pennsylvania student who couldn’t stand to smile through the pain one more day.
If you want to know about someone’s life, talk to them.
Talk to them.