Thursday, October 16, 2014

What exactly, is a picture?

From time to time, I see pictures of myself, friends and family on Facebook. When I see those pictures I find that I take a short inventory about what I know about that person and wonder how they are doing. Once a week I go shopping for groceries with my family and find myself at the checkout stand, looking at the magazines. I see the celebrities, all tricked out with the latest fashions and on the tabloids, I see the most unflattering pictures of celebs one could ever find.

How much do I really know about someone from a picture? Not very much, really. A picture is, after all, a very gross approximation of who we really are at that point in time. A picture is a snapshot in time of our state of being, and even then, it is only the thinnest of slices of time. A picture is what is captured from light reflected by us onto the CCD or film at that moment in time.

A picture of me does not reflect all the joys and sufferings that I may or may not have enjoyed or endured. A picture cannot even come close to encapsulating all of the experience, wisdom and history that I have gathered. A picture is just one point of view of me or anyone else captured by a camera.

I think that film stars know this better than anyone, for they see themselves aging over the years. They can watch their own films and remember what they were going through on the day of each shoot. They know, first hand, the blood, sweat and tears, that went into the making of the film. They know how they had to set aside everything else going on in their mind for each take, to stay in character and to pretend, for a few minutes, to be someone else.

I suppose that when someone takes a picture of us, even impromptu, we find a way to pose for the shot, to show our best side, and gather ourselves up a smile. In those moments, we don't know what will happen next or what will happen to our pictures. Who will see them? Who will remember us?

For decades we used film to capture those moments we thought worth capturing. Some of those pictures are in our memories for the impressions they made on us. From portraits, to magazines to the internet, we've seen pictures travel from a limited life to a state of immortality, for the internet never forgets. Most of us now use digital cameras as single purpose instruments or built into our phones. The pictures now go straight to disk, stored for as long as there is power and the means to retrieve them, they will be there.

Yet, no single picture can tell the entire story of the image it captures. All that a picture can do is offer us a glimpse of a moment long since passed, into eternity. Only the people who were there know what was going on outside the frame of the shot. For the rest of us, we can only imagine the scene at the time of the shoot.

Yes, a picture really is a very gross approximation of who we are, and I doubt it will ever be anything more than that.
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