This post is a cautionary tale for all those who create or view photographs, not that they are evil soul sucking devices, but that they are also not the innocent pastime we think them to be. When I was younger I heard that the Amish in my state did not like having their pictures taken because they felt the photographers were taking a piece of their souls. Off and on, I have thought about the idea of photos stealing our souls even as I have watched the changes in the Amish communities around me. Whether or not they still hold this view today, I feel that I have a unique argument to support, at least, the danger in not fully understanding the nature of a photograph.
When someone takes a photograph, be it of a person or a landscape, they are capturing a moment in time. A moment that cannot be repeated exactly the same way ever again. In addition, they are only taking an image of a small portion of what is actually there to be recorded, more of a sampling than a recording. For example, have you ever seen a home listing where a house looks nice in the photo, but when you get there, it seems nothing like what you saw. The house next door is ratty and there is an ugly shopping center a few blocks away. You are dealing with framing. The photographer purposefully framed the photo to exclude as much of the negatives as they could. In addition, depending on when the photo was taken, the way the house looks at a different time of the year might actually change your opinion of the property.
Now take this notion and apply it to people. When you look at a picture of a person, you are looking at them at a certain time and place, which can never be exactly duplicated. In addition, you are seeing a still version of them. People are constantly in motion naturally and because of the need to breathe, they never truly come to a complete stop until they die. So you are not seeing their real likeness. Add in the fact that the photographer chose when to take the photo and, in a lot of cases, even composed the person’s stance. Thus, you are seeing that person in an artificial sense. I sure all of you have seen people in photographs that you also met in real life and thought they looked nothing like you pictured them. They do not look as good from the opposite side that the picture depicted and, in the case of women, wow, they have Tammy Faye makeup issues.
Unfortunately, for the most part we tend to gloss over these issues and accept the images we are fed as reality. We form our opinions about people and places based upon images of them, which in this day and age, are so digitally manipulated that the truth is almost completely lost. We look at a picture of a person and say this is them, this is the soul of them. We want them to fit into the image we are seeing of them. One of the biggest problems with such a world view is that we expect the person to remain static. We get angry if they get wrinkles or gain weight.
What we are doing to them is taking a piece of who they are and saying that this is them, even though they will never exactly be that depicted person again. In truth, they never were since we are seeing only a minute part of the whole. However, because we tend to view this image as the whole, we are taking a piece of that person and making a new mental picture of them. In other words, we are taking a piece of their soul and making this the entire person in our mind and when they don’t live up to that image in real life, we get frustrated. Think about it.