Edited by Arnav Diwan
Dinner table gatherings with my family have very repetitive conversations. My mom starts off with stories about our childhood. These are usually followed by loud protests, from either my brother or me, of “No! if I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, how am I supposed to remember something that happened when I was a child!” and “No! That can’t have been me. I don’t remember doing that!” and so on and so forth. It ends with my mother begrudgingly removing the photo album and showing us the proof of what she had just (unsuccessfully) described.
This was how I was introduced to photography. I always considered it as a time machine to the past, refreshing hazy memories and allowing one to relive a moment in its original form. The nostalgia in these moments is high, alternating between ache for days long gone and happiness for having experienced them. Ed Sheeren’s song Photograph contains this special understanding of photography that sings my own thoughts out beautifully-
We keep this love in a photograph
We make these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Our hearts were never broken
And, times forever frozen, still
So, you can keep me
Inside the pocket of your ripped jeans
Holding me close until our eyes meet
You won’t ever be alone, wait
For me to come home
- Photograph, Ed Sheeren
I believe this is what photography must have started out as–a safe keep for fading memories and our loved ones. But over time, this essence has been lost to the never ending need to satisfy the ideals of beauty, overbearing conformity pressures of social media as well as the pressures of a busy life. Same moments are repeated and captured over and over again, until their originality vanishes. All this is done because the scene isn’t ‘pretty’ enough, the lighting not ‘aesthetic’ enough, the smile not stunning enough; the overall effect too bleak. What was meant to be a spur of the moment capture therefore becomes a people-pleasing image.
How do we decide what makes a photograph ‘perfect’? Is there even such a thing? Every picture is taken with an ideal of beauty that the photographer upholds. We even have a vast number of editing tools, allowing what we consider ugly to be made more beautiful with the right lighting, angles, views and so on. But what is beautiful to one, need not be the same for others. So, the question we must ask is, are we trying to please ourselves or others? To what extent are we going to drive ourselves crazy, stranded in one point of time, trying to capture the perfect picture? All we gain from this is a false satisfaction of beauty, mingled with the realization that it has taken us many tries to get there. There is also a sense of jealousy that develops, directed towards everyone else, when we think that others have it easy and don’t have to work as hard to attain our ideals of a perfect photograph. But they suffer from this problem too; it’s just not visible within the image.
So, what once was a machine to capture the emotions and the experiences of a moment, has now become an ever-pleasing device for perfect pictures and false memories. These artificial moments may certainly be littered with feelings, emotions and experiences, but it is hard to find them within the limited space of trends and repetition. All we can remember is the number of clicks it took to get to that moment, but never why we wanted to capture that moment in the first place. That is safe within the first image that we hastily reject because it isn’t what we expected. Those are the pictures we should hold on to. Those are the ones that will help retain the fading life that we once enjoyed. The value of spontaneity is in itself the beauty of the moment, and is therefore worthy of the capture and the preservation.