I rarely bother to write about the same thing twice in a day, but this is bugging me. It must be, because I’ve written about it before and probably will again.
Photography is not about inner beauty. Photography is about an image captured and displayed to be viewed.
I am a photographer. Not a professional, just a pretty good (enthusiastic) amateur. I don’t do photography with the precision of some people, but I do a pretty good job — most of the time.
I do two things well: landscapes and casual portraits. If you let me, I can probably find a few flattering angles at which to take your picture that will not make you feel like screaming and running from the room in horror.
As the years have progressed and I have aged, so have my friends. Where once you could just point and shoot, photographs taken of older people require a little more intelligent use of processing tools. A little softness for skin. Gentler lighting. And a certain kindness in figuring out what people want to see.
I know photographers love the wrinkles and folds of old skin. We also love photographing rusted old trucks and falling down buildings. Old things are more interesting to shoot. But friends are not “old things” and we don’t take their pictures because we want to capture that gravelly roughness of what was once their treasured skin.
We want their pictures because we care about them. We see them as special. We know their humor, their wit, their kindness. We have laughed and cried together. We know that little twitch in the lip means they are trying not to laugh … and we know they don’t want to smile because they don’t like the way their teeth look. They do funny things with their heads so the wattles or double-chins won’t show.
Is it vain? Well maybe it is, but I don’t see anyone running around in a hair shirt, either. We’ve all got a little vanity in us and there’s nothing wrong with it. If you are packed with inner beauty, a nice picture won’t erase it.
Most grownups don’t like they way they look in pictures. We also don’t like the way we sound when we’ve been recorded and are sometimes horrified that other people have to listen to that awful voice — yet somehow, everyone does and no one minds. The same with how we look. Our friends love us and they see us with love.
Which is why selfies are such an awful idea for adults. Selfies are not portraits. They are shot too close. They distort your face, broaden your nose and make your lips look blown up. Selfies emphasize the texture of skin which may have been perfect once, but time has had its way. Super closeups deepen wrinkles and enhance the folds on your neck. They even make your hands look wrinkled and worn — even if they actually don’t look that way. They make everyone look lumpy and double-chinned. We may have liver spots, but is that how we want to show ourselves to the immediate universe? Really? WHY?
The camera lens is a cold thing. It sees what it sees and dumps the information on a sensor. A photographer sees through the lens and makes other choices. I look at my friends and see the smile, the sparkle, the laughter. How they talk with their hands. How their faces change when they are animated in conversation. Those are the pictures I want.
We all need a friend with a camera who likes us enough to see us and capture the spark that makes us so lovable. Photography is not about hidden beauty. Save the hidden stuff for your writing and intimate talks with friends and loved ones.
Photography is about what things look like. But a good photograph show much more than that. It will see past the skin and catch a special something. We are more than skin hanging on a bony frame. This is also why I so dislike people with no experience or talent selling themselves as photographers. It diminishes those of us who have spent dozens of years learning how to take pictures that are more than whatever landed on the sensor.
And if those pictures of you don’t come out well? That’s what DELETE is for. With digital cameras, we can take millions of pictures. Free. If we can take fifty pictures of an interesting tree, what’s wrong with taking a couple of dozen of our best friend?
The whole issue baffles me, mainly because I don’t know why it is an issue at all. If you own a camera and you know how to use it … go shooting with a friend. Take pictures. Keep taking them until you have a few in hand that makes both of you light up with pleasure.