I’ve taken 263 photos since arriving in Venice, my husband has taken five – it would be nice to have a few more of me | Emma Beddington


‘I think you should take my picture,” I say to my husband, with some embarrassment. We are on a long-planned, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Venice, undertaking a self-designed initiation rite for the empty nest stage of our lives: working and living in one room for a month with our slightly demented dog.

I can’t resist taking photos – 263 so far, and counting. Everything is beautiful: the bright green water against the faded yellow and terracotta, the bridges topped with clever Venetians staring at their phones, the glistening of the sun or the morning mist low on the water. I have to capture the cheerful decorative flourishes: a stone camel here, a brass lion there, the five-tier Murano glass chandelier surrounded by plaster daisies in the library where I work. My phone is filled with boats, a woman walking nine chihuahuas and countless seagulls.

My husband doesn’t take pictures. When he does, it’s an event, not a habit: I think he’s taken five since our arrival. But we are walking along a canal particularly attractive in the sun and the dog, collapsed but still elegant, like the city, is at my side. I have plenty of my husband (OK, more gulls); wouldn’t it be nice to have a few of me? He gladly obliges, but I look embarrassed and awkward. It shows that I had to ask.

Men don’t take pictures. There are countless talented male photographers out there, but most men don’t seem to take phone shots the way women do: candid, steady shots of their partner and family. I’m practically not in family photos, except for those taken by friends or relatives. A social media post I saw recently of a sunny, laughing woman captioned “filming me for my funeral since my husband never takes pictures or videos of me” was followed by a series of “so true” and “may be related” comments. We were already talking about this “image inequality” when I was blogging in the 2000s, but it has been carefully analyzed in recent years. Do women assume another responsibility, that of family archivist and daily chronicler?

A rare shot…Emma Beddington with the family dog ​​photographed in Venice by her husband. Photography: Courtesy of Emma Beddington

I wonder what role social media plays. Instagram, in particular, strikes me as a female space, although in reality the platform only has a slight bias towards female users: maybe it’s just that my friends are mostly female. I put pictures up there, and I’m uncomfortable seeing experiences like photo shoots sometimes. But most of my photos are not intended for the public. Above all, I want to mark our past – what we have done and where we have been. I don’t even print any, though I should: if we’ve learned anything lately, it’s not to entrust anything of value to bombastic tech bros.

On one level, my husband is right. Holding your phone is an imperfect and inelegant way to capture a place or a feeling. It’s the classic critique of the digital age: we record, we don’t live. He’s good at being in the moment and that’s exactly what he’s doing here. He loves watching people in boats and the changing magic of light as much as I do, but he’s happy to just enjoy it.

But I’m right too. Memory is unreliable: it is a story that we construct, not an objective truth. If I think of 2020, my chest tightens and I remember fear, grief and sitting at my desk seven days a week. But if I scroll through my photos, it’s just stupid family games , terrible haircuts and weird but lovely socially distant drinks and breakfasts. There is a son who proudly holds a carrot he has grown; the other is sledding with his father and the dog during an unexpected snowstorm.

My phone’s camera roll is a powerful corrective to my natural pessimism. My brain will probably define 2022 as permacrisis, a time of global grief and fear. But my photos will tell a different, equally true story: this perfectly spherical eggplant I grew; the sons that I also grew up. And now a really beautiful seagull or my husband enjoying an espresso. That’s why I do it (and why I’ll keep asking him to do it). If happiness doesn’t come naturally, sometimes you have to take a picture of it.


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