Preserving or Portraying?
The new competition of photography & life. Photography in the age of social media.


Portraying Perfection

A very high proportion of images posted to social media every day are the here-I-am with [insert name/s here], here-I-am at [insert place here], here-I-am doing [insert activity here], here-I-am eating [insert foodstuff here], here-I-am wearing [insert favourite fashion label here], etc… They tend to lack a real exploration of subject & place or a contemplative attitude to the taking of them. Photography seems to have taken a turn towards merely being a quick snap without forethought. It has become an exercise in capturing proof of something having taken place in our lives or to promote ourselves as living the ideal lifestyle in as many ways as is possible; for this to then be shared immediately with our friends, family & world at large, instantly establishing evidence of status that will hopefully be worthy of note by others.

This is a societal shift into self-obsession over the last couple of hundred years really. The shift away from “We” or “Community” to a focus on “Me” & “Mine” at the exclusion of connectedness with others outside of our most immediate circles. The effect of this has been profound, with increases in mental health challenges & experiences, increased isolation, withdrawal & discontent occurring for more & more people around the world.

Gone are the days of photography solely being for the benefit of pure documenting, it like life has also become influenced by advertising & marketing to a point where it no longer is a tool for exploration & documentation, it is means to entering into the contest of following & creating the best image type trends, getting more likes, looking prettier, more muscular, more handsome, more wealthy, or for creating memes & the like for throwaway moments of short-lived entertainment.

I think the functions of photography are changing because of the technology. I don’t think we’re necessarily taking photos so we can remember our experiences. I think some of the photos we’re taking are so we can brag about our experiences and post them on Instagram and, you know, Facebook and just show other people, oh, look at the fabulous life that I’m having. And so, you know, if those are the functions that you’re trying to serve, the new technology may be doing that really well. But I don’t know that the new technology is serving the functions of preserving memories quite as well unless you take the extra step and actually look at the photos and revive those memories from them.

Psychologist, Linda Henkel
Preserving Memories

The nature of photography has shifted & evolved, Linda has made an interesting observation here in that regard. That photography has most recently evolved to become more of a tool for the creation of a “fabulous life”, an exercise in marketing of the Self, rather than the “preserving of memories” from whence it came.

If you made it this far, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with Mindful Photography? Well, does pouting with fish-lips, posing awkwardly to show or flatter ones self, or taking selfies next to vehicles that cost more than an average domicile really work to preserve genuine memories? Is that strengthening the character of those that do it? How do they then feel if they see those images? Are they inspired to become that? Do they sink into a melancholy of realisation that it is just fantasy? We are all individuals & will react differently to this.

I will suggest that a random photo taken by someone at an event or gathering with friends is actually preserving a memory, whether that be a moment at a nightclub, restaurant, beach or family event is really irrelevant. Capturing a moment that is then looked back upon with the resonant reliving of that joy, craziness, energy, happiness, love, sadness, whatever was being experienced at that split second in time is a valid use of creating memories. There is an action of authenticity to it & that is the major difference to the contrived image & the possible damage they can cause long-term through the conflations of life, with an artificial ideal presented as reality.

Enough with my observations of society, back to photography! There are trends that occur within photography, back in the 1980’s & 90’s everyone with a camera wanted to be photographing whales, dolphins or rainforests. They were the popular motifs of that time, seen everywhere, available readily & cheaply, hung proudly on living room & bedroom walls around the world. This still occurs. The styles have slightly changed, the motifs have definitely changed, but there are still the trends of photo visuals. These are strengthened through platforms like Flickr, Instagram & Facebook, where everyone with a camera refers to themselves as Jane Bloggs Photography. I guess that theoretically, that is correct, anyone taking photo’s is doing photography, but there is an inference there that this is a business or profession with using that title. A cyclist or archer does not have the title of Joe Bloggs Archery, do they? It is this idea of competitiveness, of one-up-manship, of being better than another that is behind the use of this sort of title. This is a reflection of society, of the “Me-ness” of modern western society.

I posit that there is another, much kinder-to-the-Self way to approach photography, rather than being caught up in a competitive nature of capturing & creating better images than others, or seeking more likes than others. That is of course, Mindful Photography! Just you, a camera, whatever takes your fancy, a sense of investigation, intrigue & maybe even play, accompanied by no expectation, desire or judgement.

Well, what are you waiting for? Hop to it!