I read, with my usual enjoyment, one of Joerg Colberg’s latest articles entitled “An Addendum: Welcome to the faith-based community!”. What struck me about this article was Colberg’s distinction about people wanting to believe in the proposed reality of a photograph, such as family portraits or individual ones, as an acceptance of the better me or better us we see in the photograph as opposed to the more flawed one we see every day in the mirror. This photographic propaganda, as Colberg calls it, is a psychological necessity in our desire to see ourselves better and happier than we usually feel within the daily contradictions of life.
This touches, I think, another aspect about contemporary digital imagery which has been discussed but not linked to the same origins. I’m speaking about the common tendency with camera and smart-phone apps to turn any image into an older looking one. These filters, which many detest as distorting real photography, are no more than a series of modifications which add history and a popular sense of art to even the most banal image. I believe that people overly use these filters because they want to add depth and prestige to their images and, consequentially, to their experience. By making an image appear older, I am actually changing its origins and projecting those origins into my past. In times of change, the past is continually romanticized in order to compensate for the deep anxieties of the present.
This desire for nostalgia, which is filtered onto so many images pertaining to memory or souvenirs (snap-shots), is evidence of our needs for roots long lost.
Translated simply, many people desire to make history about their own experience in order to give it some meaning. In the same way, professional portraits, or practically any portrait of ourselves we decide to keep, are another contribution to the fiction of our personal narratives.
As Anthony Giddens remarked over twenty years ago in his Modernity and Self-Identity,
A person’s identity is not to be found in behavior, nor – important though this is – in the reactions of others, but in the capacity to keep a particular narrative going. The individual’s biography… must continually integrate events which occur in the external world and sort them into the ongoing story about the self.
So while people invent who they are for themselves by gathering evidence through photography that they are happily married and with the click of a few buttons they can add on historic significance, if not artful meaning, to the experiences in which they are protagonists (from taking a trip to anywhere to visiting the Louvre), that, I believe, is the jump of faith which both portraiture and vintage filters offer to our eyes and our sense of self. Colberg has pointed out the question of portraiture and I’d like to add the over-use of vintage filters both in cameras, on smart-phones or in computer programs. Both of these ways of using photography show our mundane experiences as historical events that took place in our recent or deep past. Our jump of faith is related to the fact that neither are real. But in our cross-platform society, where everyone and anyone is publicized, glamorized and fictionalized, we all have to somehow be in the picture. In reality, we’re simply constructing the narrative of ourselves.