One analogy that comes to mind for answering this question about capturing a place or time in its essence is the classroom. In a college lecture many people are accustomed to taking notes, cherry-picking particular phrases, copying visual details from chalkboard or projector screen, or paraphrasing the general point being made. But other people don’t trust their own alertness or ability to follow the thread of the discussion and so they opt to audio record the entire period. There is momentary satisfaction in knowing it is possible to replay a particular passage, or indeed the whole thing. But practically speaking, having to sit through the lecture twice is a time-cost that many people cannot afford. The notetaker versus the audio recorder approach is one way to compare a still photographer’s record of a subject with the way that a videographer/editor might capture the same subject.
It is true that each medium does things that the other does not: a still image allows close and careful scrutiny of a moment frozen artificially in time, while moving images playback the individual frames rapidly to create the sensation of live activity; a timeline instead of a fixed point in time. There is also the audio track – the original ambient sounds and voices, or the added voice of narrator or background music can produce a feeling of immersion or presence at the occasion. NLE (non-linear editing) makes it possible to create a chronological story, even when the segments are not recorded in time order; or to take a series of chronologically recorded clips and rearrange them for the purpose of increasing the dramatic intensity, for example.
But to return to the original question: is lived experience more like a movie in which self or another subject is protagonist, or is this experience a series of snapshots – moments etched into memory and guiding one’s view of the world and decisions learned by experience? Certainly the short-term and long-term memory takes in a lot of detail and winnows it by holding onto particular pieces while letting go of others. The expression “too much information” (TMI) seems to correspond to video recording: so much information captured, while still photography seems to correspond to selected moments composed and held onto. And yet, as a shorthand for very complicated and still not fully understand psychological processes, life does include a narrative or time-flow dimension which video simulates and still photos can only hint at – for example, by allowing a bit of motion blur based on shutter speed close to the speed needed to freeze the subject, while still recording a little blur around the edges.
In conclusion, lived experience does seem to be comprised of sets of vignettes or snapshots, rather than unprocessed total recall of everything that passes in front of one’s waking mind. And yet, there is a strong awareness of things changing over time, including one’s own changes relative to background conditions, too. So maybe the analogy of “freeze-frames” is the best approximation: full motion video from which individual frames are pulled out and kept in memory for ready reference even after the full-motion fades away or is displaced by other experiences. Another analogy might be the “video snapshot” in which a composed scene is recorded as video clip rather than single shutter release. At first glance it seems to be a still photo, except that there is ambient sound and sometimes a slight bit of motion of the subject (eye-blink, bending grass blown by wind) or movement in the background.