Photographs are a uniquely persuasive medium. Most of us are media literate enough to know we should have a healthy suspicion of any photograph we see, and some of us relish identifying the tells of a good photoshop fail.
Yet, as with all things in life, it’s easier to be a critic. When we generate content for, and post to social media, we’re just as guilty of lying by omission about the experience of our lives, as the magazine editor who removes all the evidence of body fat from a cover girl’s thighs. When I scroll through my social media streams, I view a barrage of pretty singe note, cautiously private, and flatly positive narratives. The stories I scroll past are convincing if insipid (i.e. Todd got the job! Susan is enjoying single life. Mark and Sally are enjoying dinner out in Greece.) If you’ve ever tried to post a more complicated narrative on social media, you’ve likely experienced the resulting drop-off in ‘likes.’ Your followers are ready and willing to give you their attention for a full fraction of a second, not enough time to comprehend anything that can’t be surmised swiftly.
I am curious how the resulting single note social media content shapes the photographs we create. We make more photos now than ever before in history, but are they also qualitatively different now that we have social media sharing as the goal?
If we knew that our photographs would never be shared on a public platform, with people who we trust to varying degrees, in an exchange for “likes,” would they paint a more complete picture of our lives?
Years from now, will we perceive the omitted threads of our life narratives? Or will we eventually see our own histories as we organized them to appear on social media, having forgotten the stories we didn’t document?
I notice, in creating family photographs, I’m very drawn to photographs of children expressing more nuanced emotions. My own experience of motherhood is that children inhabit a full range of emotions, and while I enjoy my daughter’s smiling, happy moments I find her equally captivating in her sadness, her defiance, her, albeit toddler sized, expressions of desire and authority.
Ernest Hemmingway wrote, “I’m trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across…not to just depict life, or criticize it, but to actually make it alive. So that when you have read something by me you actually experience the thing. You can’t do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful, you can’t believe it. Things aren’t that way.”
I do recognize the desire for a certain smiley, loving, emotive tone in family photographs- especially when social media sharing is the end goal. But for myself, and I hope for my clients as well, social media isn’t the end goal, it’s blip on the way to the end goal of memorializing a full experience, and serving as an touchstone for a more complete memory.