In an age where seeing is believing, what is photography even about? Why do we even take so many pictures anyway?
I took my first picture with a 1965 Kodak Instamatic my father owned.
Already a relic by the time I was born you had to actually load flash bulbs in to it. Each bulb rotated around four times because upon depressing the shudder, the bulb would crush itself in to a bright light for a single moment and then cease to exist. A picture would be captured inside of the film in exchange for its brief life. Needless to say, I was mesmerized by a camera converting light in to picture.
I moved on to disposable cameras after that. Quick, easy, and not too expensive, disposable cameras offered the ability to make pictures at a low cost price but you’d still have to wait for the pictures to be developed and you’d only be able to take a few shots – each picture costing too much for rapid fire images. I mostly took pictures of animals, still things, and people posing. This might have been because of my age but probably mostly because of the limitations of these types of cameras and the costs associated with them. They could run $7-8 per camera and then another $4-5 to get 20 pictures, most of them over or under exposed, blurry, or the colors washed out.
It wasn’t until I received my first digital camera at age 15 that things started to change for me. Despite the fact that it has less MP than my first cellphone with a camera, it could (theoretically) take as many pictures as I wanted for a single outlay of money. By this time I was going through disposable cameras at an alarming rate taking pictures of flowers, garbage, and signs mostly. The new digital camera, which held about 15 pictures that could be seen instantly and upload so I could simply go out and take more pictures right away, seemed unimaginably wonderful.
Without going in to too much of a memory lane trip suffice it to say that I never got much more technological than a “point and shoot” camera. Today the only camera I own is my cell phone which is a “camera” in the same way that original Cool Pix digital camera was. So in terms of artistry, I never got beyond this point so you may be asking yourself:
If you’re not that interested in photography, why are you talking about it in your blog?
It’s true I’m probably never going to reach a professional level of photo taking but to me, photography has been integral to my life and will probably continue to be. The questions that surround photography for me aren’t ones of skill or merit, but of why people are drawn to take pictures and catalog things? Why, as a child, did I feel the need to record images that were of animals or chocolates or rotting cartons of milk? Why didn’t I take any pictures of me growing up but I feel compelled to take many pictures of myself now?
Other than my school pictures there’s really only a handful of images of me before age 15 when I received my first
selfie machine digital camera. For the most part, no one around me takes images of me so they are few and far between. In a world where everyone seems to photographing everything, that can make you feel like you lack a historical significance. People want to spend time with you, but they don’t want others to know. People want to talk to you, but only enough to forget you. People want to be in the moment with you, but they don’t want to remember the edges of that moment as they were.
You see, photos are the edge of a memory. Human memory is faulty. Humans remember things by remembering the last time they remembered them. So if you never have anything to remind you to remember, you’re more likely to forget. A photograph can be your external memory in a way because of that. A photograph though can only give you an exact image of a moment so it’s up for you to fill in all the rest of the blanks but it’s a good start – the beginning bars of a memory.
Photos for me, help me remember and capture the feelings of moments I never want to forget. Experiences I am in the middle of that I fear may fade over time because they were too much or too loud or too quiet to survive the day to day to do list and the worries hanging over my head while I was experiencing them. Photographs are also a natural starting point for sharing history of ourselves, sharing feelings and thoughts, sharing things that are beyond words and beyond time.
Some of this plays out in negative ways. The tendency for people to skip long winded content in favor of clicking “like” on an image that we simply glance at for a second and don’t really digest the meaning and the feeling inside of it. Some of this is surely a culture of narcissism to the point that most cell phones now have adjustments built in to make your face look thinner or prettier or younger with more desirable features. In this way, instead of wanting to take an image for posterity and remembrance, we want to take an image to boast. We want to take an image to brag. We want to take an imagine that glosses over reality in favor of perceived perfection.
In a world where everyone is constantly posting pictures and the fear of missing out is high, I don’t think that most pictures are brags. We often do remember things incorrect, we remember them better or worse than they were. So I think that pictures are something even simpler than that. In a highly connected world where you no longer need to visit someone face to face to share imagine, images are often echos of loneliness and reaching out to others.
Instead of “Look at how cool I am“, most pictures read to me as “I wish you were here“.
If we experience our own lives and memories and then record them in any way we choose, why bother to share them unless we want others to have experienced these moments with us? Photographs are still pictures of a memory, presented largely without any context. Without being able to share all of the things that make the photograph important to us.
Instead, we the viewer, get to add in our own context to these images. We get to say what they mean to us when they’re taken outside of someone else’s life and experience. People experience life in their own way and a photograph is just another experience. Sharing them seems only natural because we’re social creatures and we want to be understood when we want to share our experiences. I don’t think anyone should feel guilty that they want other people to see them – whether that means posting an image of your travels or your face. In this world where nearly everyone has the ability to take as many images as they want and share as much as they want, it only seems natural to do so.
So go ahead, take all the pictures you want.