Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Recent Meanderings in Photography: some things I'm thinking about, ii.

As I began looking at vernacular images, my concern was first with the physical aspects of the photographs' contents: the color shifts, depending on the type of film and other factors; compositional similarities, such as the tendency to place the subject in the center of the photograph, or to accidentally crop it out entirely; other interesting compositional accidents, such as the converging angles of the shadows in the image above ; lens flare; lack of focus; over- and under-exposure; etc.
Beyond these superficial elements, I also began thinking about the actual content of the images: the subject matter they portrayed, and how they reflected the perspective of the photographer.

Along these lines, one particular element of these vernacular photographs that I found compelling was their tendency toward the bizarre. When you really look at it, everyday life is filled with bizarre moments, and whether by intent or by accident, many of these vernacular photographs captured this quite strikingly.

And there is humor, whether intended or no:
I also began considering why we take photographs—why we have in the past, and why we do now. It is a way to mark occasions: birthdays, holidays, vacations, celebrations. By marking we remember, by marking we trace the passage of time. Photographing special occasions is also a way to remember the ideal in our lives. We choose the high points, and memorialize them through photographs. There can be an element of fiction-making in this—we "smile for the camera" whether we feel like it or not, cementing for posterity our idealized past.
In Ways of Seeing, John Berger discusses portrait painting as "a celebration of material property and of the status that accompanied it" (110) - that is, the rich displayed their wealth first through the commission of a portrait of themselves, and second through the display of their material possessions in that portrait. I believe there is a similar attention to social status through the display of material goods and leisure activities in vernacular photography.

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