After the loss of a dear friend I am angry I caved in to the social pressure to not take as many photos | Isabelle Oderberg

I came to realise that snapping a happy memory, saving it to look at one day when you need it, is not living through a lens

There’s a strange opposing narrative when it comes to technology, especially imagery and photos.

On the one hand, every time the phone companies release a new model, the cameras seem to get more powerful and sophisticated. People want the ability to be able to walk around with a professional-grade (video) camera in their pockets, taking higher and higher resolution photos.

But at the same time there’s a growing chorus socially of “put your phone down, enjoy the moment”. Those rolling eyes when you try to snap an image at a social gathering.

Everyone has that one friend who goes to the party and takes all the photos. The person whose job it is to document everything. The friend you call when it’s your nephew’s 21st birthday because you need those really embarrassing or monumental photos for the montage or the blown-up photo poster everyone signs before they leave.

I have listened to and – to some degree – fallen in line with the anti-social-photo movement in recent years and made a concerted effort to put down my phone and try not to view everything through a lens.

“Me? Oh I’m far too cool to take photos, how embarrassing. I’m just here. Digging the vibe.”

Of course, there are moments I try to catch, but they almost exclusively relate to my children. The kids doing something for the first time, pulling a particularly silly face, giving each other cuddles when they think I’m not looking or letting the dog lick their noses.

As a parent I know how fast childhood moves and how important it feels to document it, so that when you have that quiet little moment of grief at the warp speed of the passage of time, you can immerse yourself in some of the photos from when they were small and possibly even occasionally followed instructions without complaint or had not yet learned to talk (back).

I know the value of these pictures, because I pay a small fortune to ensure that every single one stored on my phone is backed up in triplicate in the cloud. But more and more, especially when I’m out with friends, I’ve tried my best to put down my phone, because I don’t want to seem rude or invasive.

But now I am angry. I am so angry that I caved to the pressure of trying not to take as many photos and “live in the moment”.

A few weeks ago, we lost a dear, beloved friend. He was far too young to leave us, and it was an earth-shattering shock. As we tried to process his death, I started looking for photos. I pored over the album of Polaroids that guests took at our wedding. The photos from my husband’s buck’s night. The sparse snaps of a big fishing trip my husband planned with my brother. Not one photo of him at any of these things exist.

One photo I did find was of him at my son’s birthday party, snuck in just before the pandemic lockdowns started in Melbourne. I was so happy when I found it, his arm lovingly placed around his beloved fiancé. But here’s the irony: he was wearing a Hulk costume, complete with mask, and I couldn’t see his beautiful face.

Life is short, blah blah blah.

But, really, it is.

And losing this friend has been a reminder that life is also painfully fragile.

Oh, don’t worry. I can hear you naysayers: “But what if I don’t want my photo taken! What if I don’t want to be plastered all over social media?”

I’m not talking about social media. I’m talking about photos just for you. Photos you can put in your vault (or better yet in virtual storage) until you need them one day. I hope you never do, but you might.


I laughed when my mum asked for formal family portraits with the three generations of our family as her gift when she turned 70. Formal family photos! How quaint. But my heart was full when we got the final product. All of us smiling as the kids wriggled on their grandparents’ laps, getting bored, their attention waning, their formal outfits starting to itch.

Taking one second to use your phone and snap a happy memory, store a little image of the people you love, capture your friends smiling, saving it to look at one day when you need it, is not living through a lens.

It’s saving your best memories for a day when you might need them. For when you need to spend time immersing yourself in happy, loving memories to keep yourself buoyant when you’re floating in a sea full of grief. Don’t let anyone shame you for creating that flotation device. Because you’ll never regret taking a photo, but trust me, you’ll regret it if you don’t.

• Isabelle Oderberg is a journalist. Her book Hard to Bear will be released in April by Ultimo


Isabelle Oderberg

The GuardianTramp

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