Photography: reinvented or disgraced?
(An article I did for Focus Weekly, an avantgarde corporate newsmagazine in Northern Luzon)
A woman stares from her black and white location as she rests on a motorcycle. She is garbed with a pair of dungarees and a collared blouse. Her hair, carefully fixed to highlight her soft curls, greyed from light exposure and time passed. An old lady gazes from the black and white portrait: sophisticated and classy.
This was a Kodak moment; a moment of meaning which meant to be captured and preserved. Photography, in the past, held prominence and significance. It mirrored conscientious creation. It is a cherished degree endured in a collective flicking of a camera through the family photo album. This old-fashioned family tradition expired with the service and commercialism of the effortlessly swiping through photos on a digital screen. Photography has evolved from the atypical and rare moment and instance of capturing a momentous event to a daily mania we create and produce in mass.
The Kodak moment, planned with a meticulous setting of the tripod, lost and defeated to the ‘Instagram moment’. Photography in the Instagram generation does not anymore require an occasion. In its place, day-to-day, minute-to-minute activities are considered and assessed based on their ‘Insta’ potential.
Selfie [noun, un-gendered]: a photograph in which the photographer is likewise the subject of the frame; such photos often used mirrors, or introduce the extended, stretched arm of the subject in the corner of the frame; such photographs are taken with the main purpose of posting them on at least one form of social media. Selfies are generally taken with varying technology from true photography, utilizing digital smartphones, or computer webcams.
A veteran of the selfie, a friend sits across from me, slumped on the couch and holding her phone parallel to her face. She contorts her face–piercing her eyes, scrunching her nose, making a surprised and coy expression with her lips. When I ask about her actions, she scoffs at my naivety.
“Uhm, I’m Camera 360-ing.”
As she continues, a message made up only of a photo—usually one of self-involved subject matter, my evident stupidity hits me in the face. She is a ‘Selfie Connoisseur’. Her online identity is expressed by various multitudes of selfies, where in each photo, she would portray one of the following expressions: sassy, sexy, happy, posh, or “prosti”. This new subject matter of the self now comprises a message with no text necessary; “You only need to see my face”, reads as the underlying script that comes with exchanging ‘snaps’.
Our desire to record our appearance and exhibit it for others emanates from our yet dormant narcissism. This is not a novel advancement in the human personality. Look to Caravaggio’s Narcissus, from the Renaissance period. In Greek mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Narcissism exemplifies the self-satisfaction of our own physical characteristics
Such narcissistic tendencies and manifestations envelop us, both on the screens of our addicting social interfaces, and the people next to us on the jeep. We take photos of ourselves out of appreciation with the notion that the photos fascinate our friends, or ‘followers’. Not different from Narcissus’ admiration of himself in the puddle, and trusting that if he loved himself to such level and magnitude, others would as well.
That portrait of the old lady I mentioned earlier could prove rare in today’s compeers of self-fanatical, self-declared photographers. Such a photo took skill, practice, lighting, and education. Why go to the efforts of hiring a photographer when we can crane our arm out, and ‘say cheese’ for our cell phone? The once revered ‘sacred Kodak moment’ now shattered, with it the sacristy of its photographers, replaced by the Industrial Revolution of the photograph and all-to-common, ‘Instagram moment’.
The art of photography engulfed with works of humdrum, unremarkable and nondescript events, assumed identical to the professional and classy works of Romy Vitug, Ansel Adams, Cecil Beaton or Annie Leibovitz. This propagated and popularized social media platform almost means it is already unnecessary to marvel at the works of such experienced photographers because we have become the photographers; filters need only be applied.
As I walk the grounds of Capitol, Lingayen, I must excuse a group of adolescent girls stationed in the middle of the sidewalk with their necks craned up towards the monumental Aguido. Above their heads, they each hold their smartphones, holding still while they capture the unchanging structure. Without budging from their positions, I see their fingers swiping, no doubt testing each Instagram filter; this group of girls represented ‘Filter Artists’. Possibly Valencia? Sierra? Sutro? Each photo they Instagram surely differs only slightly–capturing in manifold neither an occasion nor celebration, nor do they reflect the custom of the photographical.
We take photos with the goal to impress, in contrary to documenting our momentous, treasured moments. Photography or ‘selfie’ portraits no longer need the excuse of a memorable moment. Got your daily cup of milktea this morning? Instagram it. Walked down an empty street that resembles an utterly idyllic and utopian state? Slap a filter over it to give the photo a sepia hue, and call yourself a photographer. Those moments…you know.
The rare and cherished Kodak moment was practiced with class by our parents. Portraits like these were taken as our parents came of age and developed. What can we say about the photographs we take today? I am unwilling to call it photography in refinement, for fear of advocating the Instagram and Selfie movements.
Imagine if our grandchildren see our over-documented photographs of ‘selfies’, would they see elegance and dignity and composure? Upright men they call grandpa or grandma? More likely their Instagram oldies in our wealth, range, and assortment, that shows the evolution and latitude of our vainglory, our self-obsession, and our thirsting need for approval and validation.
This is photography reinvented…or disgraced?