Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What's In A Photo?

It was after a short but enjoyable hike that we caught this sunset at the edge of Liberty Lake here in Spokane, WA. This idyllic scene was captured: swallows and seagulls in the air, a deer jumping out of the reeds, and that summer chill just settling in. 

As the sun dropped below the hills its rays set the clouds on fire. Beautiful to watch. Even at this age with at least a thousand sunsets behind me, and even when my description is nothing more than a cliche in these times [1]. But my drunken post isn't to talk about sunsets, but to talk about photos.

You see, as I was taking this photo, my better half was also taking photos, as were several other people. Thing is now with a camera in our pockets and good photos available at our fingertips, we've passed the age of photos as memory. 

This is what photos used to be: a way to make a stamp of a memory. Something to be treasured. When I was younger there was some random survey that claimed that the first thing people would save from a fire would be their photo album. Hard to see the reason for such risk today. Photos aren't simply about memory. [2]

Why else was I taking so many pictures? I'm not a professional photographer, so complete perfection isn't the point, and yet I still took more than I would care to go through in the future. And my SO also took just as many. [3]

Fact is, given that most of these were going to be shared with loved ones, friends, and yes the general public [4] I realized there was a dual purpose for this medium. I most likely wouldn't look back at this picture and think much of it, not in 10-20 years. But at the moment, I could take a picture of an experience, share it and allow someone loved to share with it too.

But it has to be my picture, for some reason. I couldn't ask a stranger to take this picture for me (unless it was with me in it). No, here we have a moment of mine into which I'm allowing others. And as superficial as this is (the mine part, especially, for so many others were taking this photo as to render it trite—if we are to consider originality alone). 

Whether it's personal (message to family) or public (placed up on my instagram account), was besides the point. The picture was now the medium to transfer a little bit of self or an experience by the self.

But it's not only that: all this is in the context of whatever mask I've presented to others. So my family sees one person and associates a jackass who likes sunsets when they get the picture [5] while the people following my instagram see this picture within the context of the stream of whatever else I've presented them.

And as Vonnegut said: "We are what we pretend to be." Those masks, whatever I think of them, are me, as far as others are concerned. It's important to put up something worthwhile, or good. Hence the need to take that photo and send it.

In the future, when we're uploading our exact emotion-state (or mask of it) onto some stream on the internet, this will all seem a silly medium, but it's good to think about it: about the ubiquity of photos and how we react to that glut of images—and the ease with which we can publish them. 

[1] Seriously, go to r/weathergifs and watch a few sunsets in hd: there is a lot they have in common. 

[2] Certainly, they're partially about memory, and they're now used to remember codes or other things, and of course, the picture with an ailing relative/friend and so forth. That can never be taken away, but their ubiquity requires that they're used as something else now.

[3] Currently we suffer from a glut of photos. So many that we need to delete, and yet we don't, even as our hard drives spill over them (and videos as well)

[4] That mass standing in for humanity, or rather the Greek Chorus, that are the likes and loves we get for placing such picture on our wall or stream wherever.

[5] And plausibly some pleasure—as much as I get it when I see them enjoying something beautiful—from seeing me enjoy a moment in life.

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  1. Sometimes a cigar isn't just a cigar. Sometimes it is. You should watch the Bill Maher Realtime talk about those "backwards" people being right about photos taking our souls.

    1. Or sometimes it is? Photos are here to help with our memory. To remember moments and that's it. With who we remember is now open, as well as how many pics we take. It is nothing more. Lowhim is trying to be too clever about analyzing this. Reminds me of some magazine saying that such things as cameras were about the photo being taken (and the machine/software behind it) more so than the person taking the photo. In other words our software is here to make us press a button. Um. Okay. So what does that matter?

    2. Though it certainly was, at some point in time, a method to remember, it is now much more than that (though perhaps to include that). Note that it's ubiquity has forced it to become something almost invasive, though still representative of our lives (or the mask we present). Does that make sense?


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