Friday, September 28, 2012

Snapshots and Truth

There is a thing we call a snapshot, I've talked about it here. What we generally mean by the word is a photograph that has meaning and emotional impact only for the photographer and, perhaps, a few people close to the photographer. These are otherwise uninteresting photographs of Aunt Sally's birthday party and so on.

While taking some snapshots of my own recently, a couple of things occurred to me.

First: typically, snapshots are lousy compositions. Even if you have some notion of composition, as I fancy I do, one is forced into bad composition by the reality of the situation. My daughter is doing a very cute thing which we want to have pictures of to share, but she's doing it in bad light and with a terrible amount of background clutter. That's too bad, but it is the reality. It is true. Nothing I can do will make these photographs "good" in any formal sense.

Second: snapshots are often altogether too revealing of the world surrounding the subject. All that background clutter is the detritus of an actual life. The bad light is just what the kitchen looks like. The unfortunate expression, the broccoli stuck in the teeth, all these are real details of a real thing, because the snapshot is more or less by definition not formally posed and cleans none of this stuff up. This too is truth.

How much of our disinterest toward, our dislike of, snapshots comes from the formally "bad" qualities, and how much of it comes from our discomfort at having this intimacy thrust upon us, unasked-for? Should we embrace them, in their billions, for the qualities of truth they bring with them? Perhaps not as art, but as an honest and faithful (in some senses) record of what was and is?

If we were to embrace them, how should we or even could we manage that?

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