Monday, March 2, 2015

What Moment?

I have noted in the past that a photograph is, perhaps above all else, a moment, a "now" snatched out of the stream of time and preserved. This is not new, this is not original with me. Perhaps its weight is under recognized, I suppose.

There's a curious thing we do with these. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes we pry the moments loose from their anchor and set them adrift.

In portraits and "lifestyle sessions" and other retail photography, lights, makeup, and digital editing are used to make the young look older and the old look younger. The moment the client gets is, of course, "now" but the moment they want is the one when they were 22 years old and beautiful.

Photography apps of all stripes now come with filters, as we all know, and among the mandatory set of such canned post processing effects are vintage looks of various stripes. Aged prints, Polaroid, damaged prints, black and white, sepia, and so on.

We are thus confronted, this, with teens photographed 10 years in the future using "film formats" that have not existed for 10 years. The teenager indubitably graduated last spring and paid far too much for some trashy photos, but the referents on the pictures are all wrong.

Of course, this is mostly just social norms. She likes the pictures because they look the way they should, the way her big sister's pictures do, the way her best friend's do, the way the alpha girl's do.

But why do we want a picture that looks like that?

There is implicit in this some sort of sympathetic magic, perhaps best encapsulated in the reaction of others when they see a really flattering photograph of us:

You look great!

We don't look great. The person in the photograph looks great. But somehow, by some sort of alchemy, it feels as if we also look great, or at least did. We are flattered and pleased.

In the same way, perhaps, the vintage look in a photograph transports us to a previous time when (as with all previous times) things were carefree and wonderful. We can, perhaps, visualize ourselves then, when things were better, or at any rate different.

No comments:

Post a Comment