The camera has been one of the most important inventions throughout human history, transforming our sense of understanding of the world, recording an instant and writing with light. The ability to take photos has changed the way humans interact with themselves and others on a profound level. Inherently interesting, photographs tell us how things were in moments past, evoking visceral feelings. The perception of photos allows for the relation of feelings, be it empathy, lust, love or anything in between. Photography has changed the way we live and perceive the world around us and this will be discussed through the objects surrounding photography.
Strange how strong the instinct is to see something incredible and reach for a camera, the desire to capture a fleeting moment has become a normality. The camera allows one to press pause on life, to capture a moment and take it with them. People transact the ‘live’ experience in order to preserve memory through the use of cameras, granting the possibility of returning to this moment at a later date. Historically the importance of the camera was placed upon the privileged few who could afford cameras, the emphasis being on documentation or beauty. In the digital age there is almost no consequence or cost to taking pictures, beyond charging the phone or dedicated camera. The wider availability of cameras have changed the way in which we interact with others, not just for our own enjoyment, the subject of photos are now widely shared with others to express an individual identity.
Photographs have enabled humans to understand ourselves and each other differently. These objects are the prevailing narratives that explain the times we live in. The news, advertisements, social media and even our own personal devices contain photos. These photos are all used in a multiplicity of different ways to direct the way we live our lives and interact with each other on a daily basis. Walker Evans once famously said “The eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts,” this means the emotional connection we have to photos can be exploited for different ends. The way we interact with our outside surroundings is dictated by what we see, and what we see can be manipulated. From beauty standards marketed towards us, to the news using photos to push a certain political agenda, images are all around us constantly impacting the way we think. We cannot escape the bombardment of photos in the world around us, which is why it is so important to understand how we interact with them and how this acts on the way we live.
Photographs can be used as a powerful tool for understanding our lives, due to the deep emotional connection we have with them, they can remind us what it is to live. Susan Sontag believes we have such a strong sense of connection to these photos because “Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality…One can’t possess reality, one can possess images–one can’t possess the present but one can possess the past.” (Sontag 2005: 127) We take ownership of these photos as they become part of our own different individual lived experiences. Photobooks are an object used to document the most precious moments of life, looking through them is a reminder of the past we cannot control. As we look at our past through objects and photos, it evokes a sense of nostalgia.
The Photo Frame:
The photo frame allows us to express our relation to photographs in a way that can be used as decoration. The extreme importance of celebrating life and connecting to past experiences and emotions are adorned in houses while being displayed. People have framed photographs since its invention as this venerates the image, being able to express sentimental appreciation of a singular point in time. Nostalgia plays a key part in why these photos are placed in order to be seen. A dose of nostalgia reminds people of the past, celebrating how one has lived and the things they have achieved or held dear to their personality. Having these intense personal objects distinguishes one’s life from another, yet there is a gravitation towards younger years or childhood as it is a gesture to a time one cannot return to. Photography and their reminders through the use of frames therefore allows us to almost access the memories we cannot store. This is why when photos are lost it feels as if a part of oneself has been lost.
Due to the wider availability of the photograph objects that contain single photos like lockets have become a rarity. One of the biggest changes in society has been the increase in visual media constantly bombarding the brain. Technology has made the availability of photos increase, meaning we have easier access to photos of our lives or loved ones. In the past to be reminded of home, especially in war, soldiers would carry lockets with a photo of their family. Many people gained reassurance from looking at these photos, many viewing them before taking a life or death action. This shows how photos carry such a powerful presence connecting people to loved ones, even when they are apart.
In conclusion the camera has revolutionised the way we live. The way we interact with the objects surrounding photography can change the way we perceive our own and others identities. Through photographs we start to see the transient nature of our lives and begin to appreciate every moment we experience in the knowledge we cannot relive this instance in the way one can revisit an image. The way modern society projects images and the rise in photographs has transformed how we perceive ourselves and ultimately dictates the way one directs their life.
Sontag, S. (2005). On Photography. Rosetta Books. (Original work published in 1973)
Szarkowski, J. (2007). The Photographer’s Eye. Museum of Modern Art (Original work published in 1980)
Barnbaum, B. (2010) The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression. Rocky Nook (Original work published in 1994)
Made For the Liberal Arts ‘Objects’ Module (2020)
Initially inspired by Dziga Vertov’s ‘Man With A Movie Camera’ (1929)