This is referred to humorously in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Walter has just found in the Himalayas the famous maverick Life photographer Sean O’Connell, who has the illusive Snow Leopard in his camera’s sights, but prefers to not be the photographer at that moment.
Walter Mitty: When are you going to take it (the picture)?
Sean O’Connell: Sometimes I don't. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Walter Mitty: Stay in it?
Sean O’Connell: Yeah. Right there. Right here.
When I spent three years in India, after the first year and a half I ran out of colour film, which in those days was not available inside the country. I found it a relief to put the camera away for several reasons, one being I was free from the vexing question of whether to take the camera out in a situation and try for a shot.
I know sometimes I am more in the moment without my camera, but would a real-world Sean O’Connell even be waiting patiently on a Snow Leopard without the photographic intent? Would my eye be as developed as it is if I were not in the habit of continually looking?
Yesterday on the subway a big man sat down across from me. Although he had a slight moustache, the rest of his head, including his eyebrows, was hairless. There was an instant when, with eyes closed, he tilted his head back and the overhead light perfectly modelled the curves of his black face. I wonder if I would have noticed the stunning beauty of that brief moment in the midst of all the mundanity were I not a photographer?
I found this quote by Dan Winters recently. “I now find peace in the realization that millions of potential masterpieces happen each moment the world over and go unphotographed.”
I suspect that most of the people who do recognize those moments, in the here and now, are the photographers, regardless of whether they have their camera or not.