With today’s technology, you might think it would be the opposite. Because, for the first time in history, with the advent of smartphone cameras, every single human being holds in their hand the ability to take a perfect photograph.
Yet rather than raise photography to an art, as it was, say in the hands of Ansel Adams, technology has turned photos into a commodity. Suddenly our feeds are clogged with 27 pictures of the sunset, with no discernible difference between photo no. 1 and photo no. 27.
More insidious is that rather than photography being what it has been historically — accurate documentation of actual events — it has become a way to distort reality.
Photography has always been susceptible to manipulation. Even in the days of darkrooms and silver nitrate, the Soviet Union was adept at removing heads of state who fell out of favor — both physically and photographically.
Anyone in advertising knows that photos of cover models have long been manipulated to elongate the legs and pinch the waists of those already impossibly tall and thin waifs.
With the advent of photo processing software, that technology came into everyone’s hands. Suddenly it was easy to replace people and enhance sunsets. The manipulation tools grew so sophisticated as to be indiscernible to the general public. The layperson can no longer believe anything they see in a photo.
Even at that level, it required a modicum of skill. But now, every cellphone allows you to apply filters to your selfies.
The most obnoxious are the furries. Why anyone thinks it’s cute to add ears, noses and whiskers to a face escapes me. The first person who did it was clever. The second person who does it is tedious.
But the most insidious are the beauty filters that you may not even realize are in play. I’ve been noticing lately that people’s faces online are disturbingly wrinkle free, with impossibly white teeth and impossibly colored eyes. They don’t look anything like the real person I meet in the local produce section.
What saddens me and makes me feel the world has lost some of its wonder is that now, when you see the rare photo that is able to capture your attention, your first thought is that it has been photoshopped. We’ve all seen the image of a shark swimming in the street.
To combat this, I wonder if it’s time to start putting down the phone, and instead look at the scene before us in all its warty glory.
My brother used to travel the world. It was a different time, but even then I asked about his paucity of photos. He explained he purposely did not take photos, because he believed that someday he would return to those places, and he could take pictures then.
I remember it sounding weird, but now I think he was right. When you look at everything only as a possible photo, you no longer see it for what it is. Taking a picture turns it into a second-hand experience for an apathetic audience back home. You are capturing images with the intent to impress, rather than be impressed. Maybe the natives are right — taking a picture steals their souls.
We were guilty of the same with the rise of video recorders. In the back of the room at every music recital, dance or play by our children there grew a forest of camcorders, whirring as if at a presidential news conference. Dads were fussing with tripods and microphones so much that we missed appreciating the actual performance. Our children became actors and models rather than just kids doing scary and creative things.
I wonder if this was good?
But at least we have it on tape. In a box. In some closet. In a format we can no longer play back.