“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”
― Diane Arbus
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”
― Henri Cartier-Bresson
Thanks to digital media taking and sharing photographs has become part of our daily life. Unlike in the old times, when we were saving the precious film for very special moments, and were careful to pick a deserving occasion to snap our cameras, nowadays creating hundreds of snapshots is not reserved for professional photographers only. We all can do it. And because we can, this is precisely what we are doing.
You cannot walk along any street today without seeing at least one person aiming their camera or telephone camera to take a photo. During important (and unimportant) events, we are often present only through the lens, trying to capture the best image and captivate the moment. Sometimes it seems that we are not there to enjoy it, but just to make sure that we have photographic evidence that we were there.
However, if I look back to the time when nothing was digital and instantaneous, our photographs had a different life and meaning. They were much more personal and we shared them with very few people. We would proudly show our albums to our distinguished guests and spend intimate family moments looking through them, remembering past holidays, important milestones and celebrations. We kept them and cherished them. Through them our memories got color and detail. We cared if we looked good on them, but not too much. We knew that it was just an instant and that it did not matter that our eyes were sometimes closed. What mattered is that we were there.
If I compare it to the present time, the way we use photographs has changed in so many ways. Because of the possibility to share them with a larger audience, our photographic creativity has grown. More people take artistic shots and it is definitely a plus. But if I look at our modest personal snapshots, we are often handling them in a similar way we handle junk food: for fast, instantaneous gratification: we snap, share, wait for the affirmation and snap again. We take thousands of them and delete thousands of them. We store them, lose them and forget them. There is sometimes so many photographs taken on the same event that we never have the time to go through them.
Imitating professional magazines, we often try to emulate their constructions, by posing, and trying stubbornly to get that perfect shot in which we look like cover models. Knowing that some of the photos may be shared, we are forgetting to just be, because we think we need to be our best. The photographs stop being preserved memories, they are becoming constructions of ourselves and the events that we took part in.
All this makes me think about the way our children will look at the thousands of photos we have taken of them, when they are grown. Will they be as precious to them as our own black and white printed photographs are to us? Or will they be too busy photographing their own lives to ever sit and look back?