Opinion – The Measure of a life – James Allan

There is a famous quote that goes something like  – “your life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.”  That’s very nice and perhaps it is even true and it looks good on a greeting card or in an inspirational book.  However it doesn’t really mean anything to me.

The Melbourne comedian Rod Quantock postulated a similar but different saying.   “your life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the words that you will speak.”  He imagined that we were born with a finite number of words and once we had said them all we will die.  I heard this quote as I was driving in the car listening to Radio National.  I was struck by the simplicity of the formulation.  It also is true.  It makes a life look different if we weigh it up as a series of speeches, dialogues and soliloquies. (Rod’s words)  For a playwright, or in Rod’s case a comedian this is perhaps a more useful measure of a life than the silly breath statement.

So I was thinking perhaps it’s not just about words.  I am a photographer, I make images.  Would it also be true to say that I have a finite number of images to make and then I will die.  Is my life measured in images?  I guess that is also true.

To be the devil’s advocate, I am aware that not everyone makes images.  This formulation might sell some lives short.  Well perhaps not.  The number of images being made has been increasing since the birth of modern photography.  Everyone with a cell phone has a camera in their pocket.  It seems most of the younger generations are on Facebook, posting endless images of themselves onto the web.  The proliferation of images seems endless.  Even if you don’t take pictures yourself, pictures are being taken of you.  Drivers licences, passports, family snaps, surveillance cameras.  We are in an age of image making.

The first club meeting this year was entitled “from the archives”.  It was interesting looking back at the archival photographs.  The power of the images to reinforce memories and emotions was truly astonishing.  Looking back through my old albums I remembered what it was like when the children were small.  I remembered getting engaged, our first home, working in the garden, my long dead Grandparents.  It is true – every picture tells a thousand words.  I’m not sure what Rod Quantock would think.  The images get right to the heart of the matter, bypassing the words.  I don’t know many people who keep diaries.  However most people I know have a photo album.  In a bush fire what one possession will people save over all others?  I suspect it would be their photo album.

I was thinking that perhaps I should try and find a picture from every decade – perhaps every year.  That would be a project that I would enjoy.  I would love raiding Mum and Dad’s albums to find pictures from my childhood.  Perhaps write to my old school friends.

At times the proliferation of images seems to be chaotic and random.  Just look through the Facebook postings, or an image gallery on the net.  There are pictures of absolutely everything imaginable.  If I want ideas for a photo competition, I merely type into my search engine the topic and see what other people have done.  In this vast sea of images I feel insignificant.  Are my pictures of any relevance?  Does what I do mean anything at all?  I think this is the point of my ramble.  I believe that it is worthwhile.  I think we have a duty to our images to give them meaning.  If I am measured by the images that I make, why should I strive to take the same images that everyone else is taking.  I see no joy in conformity.  It would be better for me to expend my energy writing a diary (apologies to Rod).  I feel that my images should reflect my thoughts and ideas, my experiences.  I should let my images show my life.  My oddities and my perspective are what make my images worthwhile.

So this is my recommendation; It’s not breaths, it’s not words.  Measure your life in images.  Make it worthwhile, give it meaning by making your images to show your life.

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