I miss the snapshot, I just realized.
I feel like we have gone back to the time of Matthew Brady, not in the least because men seem to dress like they are late for a nearby civil war battlefield, short stovepipe pants, felt coat and millitary cadet hat covering unwashed hair mingling with steamboat captain beard and mustache, a fleck of loose pipe tobacco at the corner of the mouth, but I digress. Considering the snapshot above, I should not offer opinions on fashion.
The decisive moment is now a good half minute. I believe it would be sufficient for Brady and his eight-ten on a sunny day.
…people are waiting everywhere…I see them. Like in that movie, I see dead people.
Bidden by the outstretched Franken-Camera they are immovable, locked in a death mask, waiting, waiting. If it was a subway they would not be so patient. I think the idea is, if I can just out-wait this camera, it will do what I want it to do. It will make that perfect picture of Me.
I watched a woman use her cell phone to make a self portrait on the B37 bus recently. Obviously the light was good or she was bored, her boyfriend was not proving to be an arresting subject. It was a curious case of mirror-mirror on the wall, except for the maddening fact that the mirror was turned the other way. With each picture she had to turn the phone around to see if she got what she wanted. I desperately wanted to intervene-hey this is my job didn’t you know?- I could see the image on the LCD that she was about to make. Higher, left, ok, don’t tilt the head, less smile. This will be the FB status update for when you dump this brohunk and move on…. I really don’t understand why some enterprising cell phone manufacturer has not simply made a camera exactly like a make-up compact, they are already small, shiny and colourful. Bury the lens in the mirror! Then you could see yourself as you made the picture. Fait accompli.
The camera has now become an accomplice in our efforts to attain stardom and we are the lead character of our own lives! Born of two worlds and with a compelling personal narrative! We deserve a picture that confirms this. Head tilt, fish lips, squint. There. We need to control the media, even our own. Balloon Boy. Creepy White House Party Crashers. I really don’t know why we worry so much about media censorship, when we edit our own stories much more heavily. Gone are all the random moments. Delete that. And definitely delete that off your friends phone or facebook page. Please do not tag me in someone else’s photograph. That is not an “official” photograph of Me™.
I miss the snapshot. I realize that what I am calling the snapshot and “snapshots” are very different things. Winogrand liked to point out when asked about his “snapshot aesthetic” that the garden variety snapshot was not very haphazard or uncontrolled, what his frames seemed to be suggesting, but actually a very staged and formalized genre of picture making, a subject in front of some object, owned or mastered by the person depicted. Like the photograph above. What I mean by snapshots refers to the vernacular use of snapshots and the lack of control and innocence that film allowed. When you can’t see what you are doing instantly, you can’t be that self conscious. Or styled or controlling. The snapshot was a memento, like found beach glass, and it is made with the speed of our reaction to life, instantaneously. And permanent. I think this is why digital compact cameras have never really done it for me, they can’t focus and shoot fast enough to matter in this way.
If a camera cannot keep up to wit, can it say anything meaningful? And if you could take back what you say, as if it never happened, what does that do to our sense of selves?
A Camera, a Real Camera, is a subversive object. Robert Frank (I think) described carrying the Leica felt like having a gun in your pocket. Photographs threaten politics and vanity equally. I find this surprising since everyone has cameras and everyone takes pictures. Surely if everyone is doing it it means nothing? Yet still. I brought this contradiction up at a recent shoot and the sitter reminded me of the camera phone video of Neda’s Agha-Soltan’s death, the female Iranian protester, and how that video has gone on to be a symbol of the Iranian Resistance. The Youtube Revolution as it is called. Another Nick Ut moment. I am not so sure about this, I am not sure that the world can be galvanized for very long by such imagery, still or motion. Both moving. But are we moved? I am not old enough to know if the same questions were asked of the photographs produced during the Vietnam War, yet we tend to acknowledge that the images coming back from that War did much to change the course of our involvement there.
Photography is subversive, but it is subversive everywhere, which means nowhere. It is no longer the tool of one government, on ideology, but of all governments, and all people really. And I think this means that we assume all photographs are staged fakes since we are busy now staging our own lives for social media. The snapshot is dead, and we are all waiting for face detection to locate our true selves.