“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still” ~ Dorothea Lange
Wikipedia: “The history of photography has roots in remote antiquity with the discovery of the principle of the camera obscura and the observation that some substances are visibly altered by exposure to light.” Uhhhh, okay.
Photography in its embryonic stages was quite the revolutionary invention. It started as a huge contraption on a pedestal or tripod of some kind, it was lugged around, clumsy, dangerous because it exploded when the picture was taken. The process took days for a picture to develop, nobody smiled, most of the images you see in old crackled sepia photographs are of people who look totally miserable. Looking other than somber must have been a dictate so that your teeth didn’t show or whatever it was making people so cheerless.
Chronicling our collective history through books, letters, journals, logs, storytelling, poems, music, paintings, and other methods of communication clear back to hieroglyphics and cave writings were all we had as a species from which to have a frame of reference of the past, and with that we were at the mercy of the interpretation of the presenter.
Photos were always treasured representations of our history, our loved ones, special moments in people’s lives. They were framed behind glass and hung on walls, displayed on fireplace hearths or carved walnut shelving. Those not framed were lovingly placed in albums where we and others could gingerly page through and relive captured flashes in time that were significant in some way. Pictures of happiness, sadness, tragedy, goofiness, war, peace, scenery, buildings, no matter the image it is a record of who we have been and who we are as a human species good, bad, and indifferent. Before photo manipulation, it was a true depiction of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We’ve all heard, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s there were cameras with film and flashbulbs and only so many shots could be taken because it cost money to take a picture. Everybody gathered in front of the fireplace for that Christmas card photo, one of us girls in her graduation gown holding a diploma, the picture in front of the Yellowstone Sign while on a family vacation. One of us would always be omitted from the shot because that was the person taking the photo. We would take the pictures and pray they would turn out. There were times when an entire roll would be wasted and the one opportunity to get a picture of little Sandy on the Dumbo ride at Disneyland would be forever lost. Almost all photos were black and white with a few exceptions, but we all now had cameras that were relatively easy to carry around in our boxy tanned leather camera cases with a shoulder strap. We no longer had to have the huge contraption of old. We were then faced with having to decide where to get the pictures developed, how many of each to have printed, then wait for a week or so to go back to the store to pick them up, find out 1/2 of them were awful, stuff the negatives into a drawer, then mail pictures to the grandparents. How many of us had undeveloped rolls of film sitting around the house never developed. I am raising my hand, anyone else?
If you were lucky enough to have 35mm color slides, oh my goodness, what a great thing. We could then bore everyone with a carousel of our vacation slides clicking one after another on the living room wall at parties. Well, we thought they were entertaining. “Look, Donna, is standing by the creek on that mountain in Colorado. Oh, you know the name of that place. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but how cute is that?” But unless you forked over the additional bucks to get a printed copy of the slide, you were stuck with a box of slides that you could take out one at a time, hold up to the light, and squint to see the tiny image. After looking at 50 slides, you would finally find the one you were looking for, and by then who cared what you wanted it for anyway?
I can remember how awesome it was to have a little black and white Polaroid. Polaroid! You mean I can take a picture at the school dance and it’ll kick it out of the camera and we only have to wait 5 or 10 minutes for it to develop?!? That is amazing! Anyway, it was amazing until I realized every picture I took of someone they wanted to take with them. So, yes, Mom and Dad bought the coveted film, and I took the pictures, but at the end of the dance, I had one picture of Coach Smith with a toothpick in his mouth.
Then came the digital camera. You mean I can take pictures of anything and delete what I don’t want? That’s brilliant! The camera’s are expensive sure, but it’s small enough to put in my purse, I can take pictures of anything, and only develop what I really want. The rest can just sit in my camera until I will them to someone else upon my passing. “Here, my child, I have bestowed upon you my digital camera from 1998 with pictures of you burping and crawling through the grass with mud on your face when you were small.” “Gee, thanks, Grandma.” Well, it’s the thought that counts.
The OMG moment came with the advent of the camera phone. Not only was a smart phone the BEST THING EVER!!!!, but it also takes pictures? What?!? How is that possible? It was several years before we had one of those, but it’s truly a magical thing. We can now take picture after picture and miracle of miracles, hit a button and send it into cyberspace somewhere to instantly share the captured image with family, friends, insane stalkers, anyone you want. How exciting is that? Instead of 30 pictures from vacation you can now have 3,000. Imagine, 3,000!! What the heck do you need with that many pictures of vacation? My vacation memories are now contained in my phone. It’s a good thing because I was so busy taking pictures and capturing ‘fun’ moments that the over-all travel experience was viewed through a 5″ phone screen.
Enter, the Selfie. The Selfie. Wow, we can now turn the camera on ourselves and take close-ups of our face at the park, at work, at school, in the car, laughing, working, eating, kissing, sticking our tongues out, tilting our heads, standing in front of something somewhere. Who would know what that was because in most cases all we can see is your face. Your face out somewhere on New Year’s Eve, your face somewhere at a ballgame, your face somewhere getting ready to drive to get a Starbucks, your face drinking a Starbucks, your face in your bedroom mirror, your face, your face, your face. I pretty much know what you look like, but I really would like to see Mt Rushmore behind you, not a picture of your face with a pre-displayed location added to your post that says you are at Mt Rushmore.
What started out as uniquely treasured slices of life are now millions of captured images of nonsense with one or two jewels in the mix. Find it and post it, quick! Oh well, progress is progress. I can’t wait until they (whoever they is) invent the next best thing that will blow our minds!… Sandy