Keith Eastwell Fine Art Photography

Is an unphotographed life worth living? 12 June 2017

Blog > Is an unphotographed life worth living? 12 June 2017
31/12/2015 - 16:39


I recently read an article, which posed the question: Is the unphotographed life worth living? Of course the answer to this is a resounding yes. To argue life only gained meaning and became worthwhile one hundred and fifty years ago with the invention of photography, is to surmise the billions of individuals together with the tens of thousands of great men and women who lived and died before 1827, needn’t of bothered. I can however reason why the question was raised.


In her book On Photography, Susan Sontag reasons the impact of photography on the mass population gave millions of people a tool to enable the documentation of their everyday existence. Mass produced cameras preloaded with film, gave the working classes a tool allowing them to capture their own lives. The photograph was long hailed as a document of truth; given the cameras ability to record a very specific but heavily edited moment, framed within the viewfinder. A photographic picture may distort but there is unquestionable proof that a given thing happened. The photographic portrait adds gravitas and although not equal in prestige as a painted portrait, the photograph is a flawless facsimile of life. Photographs offer indisputable evidence to future generations that a life was lived, but not having been photographed cannot make any life worthless, just missed within the billions of lives that come and go.


Our modern commmercially driven society avoids the notion of ordinary, our fifteen minutes of fame was once considered a possibility in the 1960’s, but in the mass-communication world of the 21st century forget fifteen minutes, one must go viral and fifteen minutes may just be the beginning. Social media has gifted the photograph the notion of being of the moment, the written word in Hieroglyphics; digitally recorded in the moment and uploaded seconds later. People post: Look at me. Look at me: I’m off to a concert. I’m stuck in traffic. I’m going on holiday. I’m at work and I’m p****d off.  I’m one of 7 billion people… CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?. I tweet, therefore I am. The posts are often accompanied by digital images, pictures of the concert, the traffic cue, the holiday hotel and the despondent selfie, sitting in an office cubicle. Indisputable evidence of a life being lived and hopefully, a life less ordinary. However, a single isolated image tells us very little and looking back at an historical Facebook page of someone's selfie with the accompanying words "Gone for a Big Mac" may be as vague as finding an ancestors photograph in an aging relatives loft. How many of us have discovered a photographic unknown, to then discover the person's name, the date and where the image was taken written on the reverse in fountain pen.


The concept of the past we understand, the notion of a future we accept but the biggest issue is in comprehending the present, the now. Exactly what is now, what is present? As I think of the present, try and comprehend the notion of a now it slips through and becomes the past! We hear so much of the now, the moment and yet to talk of the moment we must look back: Yes, I was there, I did that, I was one of the first. The significance and uniqueness of a time in our lives or in the time of a generation, is rarely appreciated within the moment. It is only when the moment has passed can we fully understand how distinctive it was to be a part of it. Only through the awareness of feeling nostalgia, is a moment in our lives elevated and held with special regard.


A photographed life gives us the luxury of analysing brief fractions of a second within it. Photographs allow a moment to linger and it is within photography’s freezing of that moment that the magic works, releasing the lives trapped within the stillness of a single frame. We are now posting 1.8 billion photographs every day, commercial photography aside, a billion images everyday are taken by people who just want to capture the now. As they take the picture they are thinking this is important, or maybe its just a case of, I want this. An unphotographed life is as important as the photographed. Having a picture of all those wanted moments, all those important now’s does say look! I was here: Look at me, look at me. The unphotographed life is simply a missed opportunity that someone in the near or even distant future may look at your likeness and wonder. Just imagine, someone in a thousand years looking at you and saying your name and all because that one image from 36 trillion was lucky enough to survive.


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