Home > Random Musings > with the photographs there

with the photographs there


Yesterday, I found myself feeling curious about someone. I am a very curious person by nature. When I’m not being inquisitive, you should worry. I’m either ill, or I’ve stopped caring about something or someone. Anyway, I did what anyone does in this age: I Googled that person. (Cue Amanda Palmer’s I Google You). It’s amazing how much you might discover, especially if that person is a public figure or has an online presence. Or both.

I shouldn’t have done that, because it kind of broke my heart.

Pictures are little semi-false snapshots, memories and myths, held together by technology. I love pictures. I love taking them. I love editing them. I occasionally love being in them. They are, sometimes, posed and packed with false, forced emotions. To me, there’s nothing sadder than a painfully choreographed moment. Or one of those family photos where everyone matches, and it looks like someone’s in pain or just smelled a really appalling smell.

I like candid, real photos. I love shots that are full of emotion, depth, and truth. For a photograph to move me, it has to capture something. (My friend Bekka Bjoke is so very good at that. Her work is so stunning that I can’t believe in. If you live in California, you want to hire her. She’s awesome, smart, and incredibly hot.)

But back to my point: there is something infinitely melancholy about a person who smiles, but whose smile is hollow. The kind of expression that avoids the eyes. It’s a betraying expression, because there’s nothing to it, nothing behind it. It’s like words, without action behind them.

That kind of unhappiness that keeps a smile from being real? It’s a pervasive, stifling, smothering feeling. When you’re just smiling for the cameras, because you HAVE to? God, that is a peculiar ache. And, honestly, I don’t know how people do it. Sure, life can be craptacular and tough. Life is quick to make us jaded. Sometimes, it’s an environmental/circumstantial/geography dependent affliction. Because, let’s face it: some people can be happy mostly anywhere, but there are some places invariably eat your soul for lunch. With fava beans. *Hannibal Lector noise*

Anyway, sometimes curiosity gets the better of us. Sometimes, we just have to know something. If I was Eve, I’d have bitten the apple, without remorse, and not saved any for Adam. I would’ve picked two. If I was in Salem, I would’ve been burned at the stake. I’m the cat killed by curiosity, satisfied as the world goes dark. So, I ask the questions. I want to understand people. It can be exhausting, but it is who I am. No regrets there.

But the thing about the photos. They ache, even though I owe this person nothing. Even though it’s not my problem. And maybe it’s odd to be so struck by a relative stranger, but damn, I am nothing is not overly empathetic. Yet, I wonder if it’s perhaps a photo capturing a truth. Perhaps that is the thing that we glance away from, too often. Maybe smiling all the time is kind of crazy. For me, a smile is my best defense mechanism. Never let them see you sweat or cry. I’m vulnerable with very few people, and it sometimes takes a lot to make it through my façade. Despite what you may think, I’m not an open book, but I am a basket case, Bareilles.

What, I wonder, does a photo really tell us? Is it an artifact or a lie? Can it be both?

“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
Susan Sontag

“And I’ll dance with you in Vienna,
I’ll be wearing a river’s disguise.
The hyacinth wild on my shoulder
my mouth on the dew of your thighs.
And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook,
with the photographs there and the moss.
And I’ll yield to the flood of your beauty,
my cheap violin and my cross.”
Leonard Cohen, Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs

Categories: Random Musings
  1. June 28, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    I’ve always been a little camera shy. I have no idea why?

    FYI – My first Novel comes next month! Tally-Ho, eh?

    • June 28, 2012 at 6:30 pm

      IT DOES??!?! Yay! That’s wonderful. Congrats!!

  2. June 28, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Look Ali, if you’re going to be Googling me like this, I’m going to need fair warning. I can’t have EVERYTHING perfect. GEEZ. Sometimes people get bad angles. >.>

    • June 28, 2012 at 6:30 pm

      *sheepish look* SORRY, JEN. 😉

  3. June 28, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    oh dear. Yes, once I got curious about someone very important to me…and found him so changed I nearly HURLED. GAHH! (I’m shallow, but that’s not a surprise). Nice work, Ali.

  4. Jessica
    June 29, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Like you, I sometimes find it hard to stop myself from going off in search of photos of someone or something that I miss. I was pondering recently, as I was weaving through the streets of Manhattan, which, though they are always moving, are always painfully redundant… I digress. I was pondering which is more sad – returning to something, or finding a recent photo of someone or something you used to love and finding it to be completely changed, or finding it exactly as you left it. Now I figure most people would say that it’s obviously sadder if you find someone or something completely changed, but I’m not so sure anymore. Because looking someone up to find that they are exactly where I left them makes me sad too. There’s something depressing to me about that stagnancy. I know so many people who are still taking the same pictures over and over again, and I feel like something or someone that never changes or grows can be just as depressing as someone not being the person you remember.

    I agree with your view of candid photos. A lot of my favorite photos of me are ones where I wasn’t aware of the camera because they managed to capture some moment of genuine emotion that you don’t get from a posed photo.

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