Are we ruining our memories with perfect selfies?
The other night I was feeling nostalgic and decided to look through old photos after a convo with my friend Robin. I’ve known Robin since we were teenagers and no matter how much money we had at any given time, we always found $ for buying film and having it developed. The kinds of photos people take is fairly generic. Lots of birthdays, vacations, fun with friends and family or a new pet. Some of the photos were blurry, some were over or underexposed for better of for worse. A lot of them were unflattering, surprised or mid action. I’ll tell you what they were not though: staged, perfect and chosen out of a dozen similar smartphone takes then given the perfect filter. They were REAL and I can remember exactly how I felt during the captures of those moments. As you get older some memories stay perfectly tattooed in your mind’s eye, and some even great ones fade away..
On one hand, it would seem that with all this memory capturing technology, that we would be able to preserve all our memories intact. WRONG. How do I know? Go through a series of Facebook photos, INSTAGRAM or you own camera roll. You will notice something creepily clear. The priority is not longer capturing moments in time, it’s capturing the best of. Best of sunset, best of new haircut, best of whatever. The knowledge that we can pick the best photo out of a series does 2 things that over time make these photos less authentic. You get a hundreds of times to pose. When someone pre-digital said to you “Smile!” you had 1 chance. Even if you did what you thought was your best smile, THAT smile was taken seconds away from the truth and many years away from duck faces and other digital demons! #2, you are the photographer AND the subject a lot of the time with the ever popular #selfies. You no longer need someone to take the photo, with 1 hand free you can click away and capture yourself whenever you like. This causes people to devalue the capture itself as something easy, immediate and not urgent. You are not limited to a roll of 12, 24 of 36 you can shoot away until your battery dies.
Everyone has those classic photos where mom took out her camera and asked everyone and the dog to crowd in for a photo. In those photos you can bet someone wasn’t ready. Dad seems distracted, your sister had a cold sore or you have static hair and rosey cheeks because you just came from outside and took off your little acrylic bonnet. That’s because you were part of your mom’s memory making and it didn’t matter if everyone looked good or that there wasn’t enough light. That dimly lit photo has more memories in it than a thousand close ups of your vainglorious face of which the actual setting, has been cropped out. Very often I look back on these selfies and I do not even know where I was, what season we are in, how I felt. It’s as if I just took a mannequin. The original memory maker that came in a little plastic tube of FILM. Film that could get ruined by sunlight, scratches, popsicle drips and untrained little hands. The photographer role has been replaced by iPhone self paparazzi shooting away for no apparent reason, simply because they can.
So what’s the solution? Pretend you only have 1 shot. Don’t let friends erase bad photos in Facebook tagging paranoia. Let them know you will not tag them but that you wish to capture a moment in time and do not want more than 1 chance to do it. Imagine that you only have a set number of chances that night like 12. Would you have taken out your real film camera for every single food dish that came your way at a birthday dinner? No way, no one would have wasted their film on all this food porn soon to dominate the digital photo future! You would have been patient and waited until a really memorable moment presented itself like your friend proudly walking out with a cake and sparklers. And maybe you had to tilt your camera because there was a head in the way and that photo will be crooked forever and that’s GREAT.