Sometime in the last several years (my memory is mushy, call it 2005) I decided that I would no longer pose for photographs (meaning, in this case, those huddled group affairs, the "we're people at a place who can smile" sort of things). In addition, I resolved that I would no longer take posed photographs. Why? Because they are a lie.
"A lie, huh? That's pretty strong, there, Josh. Aren't you being a little too acerbic?"
No, imaginary counterpoint, I'm not. (And big ups for using a fancy word like acerbic and not just saying asshole. You could have. You'd probably be right.)
Here's why: When we're out in public, out enjoying ourselves, we're in a groove, a moment of pure us-ness. When you ask us to pose for a photograph, we are taken out of that rhythm of honesty and forced to enact a fraud, namely that we're all smiling and huddled together at some point, primped for a camera. The camera, a stand-in for a narrative eye if there ever was one, acts on the behalf of others, depicting a view they've missed but that is captured for them, a moment in time to be later reflected upon. The problem with posed photographs is that these moments never really happened, nor would have happened, outside the intervention of the photographer.
The real advent of this decision came via a wonderful little piece of slipshod technology: the cellphone camera. By removing the indicator of capture, that bulky Nikon, and replacing it with a clever little ubiquitous spy, one can move past the inherent feeling of being captured, of preemptive primping and breath-holding, and allow for moments in time to be cut out of the air for posterity. When you don't know you're being watched, you tend to be more honest, and honesty is so much more intriguing than artifice. Not that cellphone photos are ideal, mind you, but their method of capture sure happens to be. They may be dark, they may be grainy, they may be blurred, but they are true.
Now, this isn't to say that I can't be cajoled. I've appeared in photos that weren't purely captured moments, because, let's face it, pretty women make pouty faces that I just can't say no to. But I still refuse to cooperate fully. I photobomb my own likeness, to assure the audience, though more than likely only myself, that I'm not doing this by choice. I'm acknowledging that I know this is a farce and that I'm willing to play along, but damn it, I don't have to like it. Am I accused of ruining the occasional photo? Yes. Do I give a flying fuck? Not in the slightest. It isn't my job to help you lie, dearie, so don't act so put out when I refuse to.
Here's what it comes down to, really: pictures should be capturing the truth, raw and real and revelatory. There's enough fake in the world, and enough fake-makers to populate it. Why be another one?
(A footnote, since I don't know how to make pretty looking footnotes quite yet: if you are pictured here and object, let me know and I'd be glad to replace your less than flattering photo with a different one. I have others that would work just as well.)
Two items jumped out at me today while sifting my RSS feeds (though a more apt descriptor should really be applied, in that it is an addictive behavior) (injecting? scarfing? smoking?) today.
Item the first: From the NY Times blog Freakonomics (in turn from the writers (and others) of the wildly successful book of the same name), this article, with the soul stomping headline: "The Burden of Incarceration: 1 in 28 Kids Have a Parent Behind Bars". You don't even need to click before it hurts. One in twenty-eight?
Imagine your high-school English class. Pick one of those cherubic faces from the crowd. The frail blond boy in the back, scribbling on the cover of his Mead notebook, adding shadows and depth to his daydream doodling. Or the pretty girl sat up perky in the front row, her tight knot of auburn hair held firm under a plastic claw, or pinned in place with a pair of chopsticks, eyes darting from her notes to the board to the teacher, trying so desperately to take it all in. Imagine them waking up every morning, coming home every afternoon, going to bed every night, aware of and aching over a mom or dad-sized absence in their lives. One less pair of arms to hold them in their sorrow, to smooth away the pain, to embrace them in their triumphs. One in twenty-eight.
Item the second: From the Christian Science Monitor, this gem: "'Feds Radiating Americans'? Mobile X-ray vans hit US streets". Now, aside from the admittedly fearmongery headline, I'd like to know just who decided that this passed the Fourth Amendment sniff test and went ahead with the roll out of these vehicles. Which bureatchnick thought this was OK? And does anyone know where one buys feathers or tar in quantity?
I'm sorry for ruining your day. When the spouse asks who got you all riled up, you can tell 'em it was Josh's fault. And then send them on over to see for themselves.