A pop-up photography museum taught me a simple lesson: Photos impress memories on our hearts. It’s only when we use them to impress people that they become too shallow to savor. In a basement in downtown Denver is the Instagram Selfie Museum. My mom and I strolled down a set of stairs and walked into an Instagram pop-up museum experience. We had an hour to take photos of each other in this kaleidoscope world the museum had set up. Where other museums limit photography, this one was centered on it. At the end of our hour, it was someone else’s turn.
Each background carried a story, but each was an unwritten page in a book. I was invited to be the author.
The swirled black-and-white wall invited me to turn around and wonder at a blurry horizon. Hundreds of roses were pinned to another wall, and around the corner was like another world, where we could lay in a field of flowers, without a care in sight.
There were 3D options, too. We jumped in a tub of silver, white, and pink balls, and our smiles were lost under a silicon wonderland. A pair of chopsticks, taller than me, were up for grabs: With a giant piece of sushi in her hand, my mom pushed it into the chopsticks and pretended to indulge in the biggest piece of sushi she’d ever eaten.
But these built-up backgrounds, however superficial they may seem, reminded me of all the real-life places we take pictures — the places where we grow the most, the places where we laugh the hardest, or the places that we describe as our favorite place in the world. Photos keep these places alive.
Maybe we just take a picture of the background itself and think fondly of the memories we made there. A picture of the coffee shop where we had a cup of tea with our grandma, or the mountains where you experienced freedom.
Or maybe, it means looking at a photo of you and your friends taken in an empty alley. Whether or not these places were significant in themselves, we made them significant by the photos we took there — and we’ll always remember that.
Sure, our culture has gotten lost in the momentum of snapping a photo, posting it on social media, and then finding the next background that’ll rack up the likes, making their friends jealous. We do it again and again, we already know that.
But if we took photos simply for our own sake — for the sake of reminiscing on these sweet memories, and passing them on to our loved ones, we wouldn’t have to neglect all photography in order to live in the moment.
Remember the photos that your grandma pulls out from her closet, the dusty ones, the ones that sometimes bring a tear to her eye? “I remember when,” she says — and passes on the story to the next generation. The picture reminds her of the story. Maybe that’s why it means so much.
I’m a culprit of getting caught up in Instagram culture. But three weeks later, I still look fondly of the pictures of my mom and I in front of those ridiculous backgrounds, and I’m fond of them because of the memories they bring with them.
Maybe one day I’ll pull them out of my closet, dust them off, and tell my grandkids about that memory.
It’ll be a good story.