By Allison Kennedy, Social Media Strategist
I was reading a NY Times article recently about the digital lives of America children, in which author Lee Siegel talks about the shame he felt for not having his camera ready at his daughter’s birth.
As a former freelance photographer and Photojournalism student, I can empathize, since it’s been ingrained in me to capture every detail of a story to tell it accurately. It seems as though that notion is catching on. Just take a look at your facebook newsfeed and count the number of photos taken to document that truly epic sandwich, or last weekend’s party (from start to finish… and brunch the next day).
In a world where 6 billion photos are uploaded to facebook every month, and 92% of American children have an online presence before the age of 2, it begs the question – does the absence of a photo imply an experience never happened?
And do the moments that aren’t scrupulously documented lack in value compared to the ones that are?
I spoke with one of my former professors and fellow photographer, Andrew Mendelson about this trend, which he touches on in A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Networking Sites:
If photos are taken for the purpose of being displayed and tagged, does this render the experiences and the social relationships presented more real?
[…] These moments and the relationships become sanctified through their documentation. They are deemed worthy of recording and preserving.
Mendelson explains that the desire to document the everyday and banal has existed since the invention of the first Kodak in the late 1800s, and has only been amplified with the omnipresence of digital cameras and cameraphones. We are now “freer to take pictures of every silly thing in ways we never would have documented” them before. However, there are still “certain rituals that have always been required” to photograph, such as first birthdays and weddings; “you [are] somehow less human if you don’t take pictures of these things.”
On the surface, taking a photo of an event appears to put a wall between you and what’s happening. In reality, Mendelson argues, it has become so second nature to hold your camera up that it is now part of the ritual.
Susan Sontag used her 1977 essay, On Photography to explain her theories on the traveler, and the compulsive need to take photos as a “friendly imitation of work” to feel less guilt about having fun:
A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it – by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.
[…] It would not be wrong to speak of people having a compulsion to photograph: to turn experience into a way of seeing. Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it.
If Mendelson and Sontag are correct and having an experience is synonymous with taking a photo of it, I have to wonder what portion of actual experiences are missed out on because we’re too concerned with adjusting camera settings in an effort to prove it happened.