Photography superstitions aside, I had a brief, interesting (and mildly absurd) exchange with a gent on Twitter this afternoon.
And decided late in the afternoon when my brain didn’t feel like thinking about important things anymore that I’m not sure I agree with him. (Perhaps why only one of us is a professional photographer…)
The question of the existence of souls aside, can or does having your picture taken capture some small element of your soul? Hrm. Well, true enough that there are iconic images, captures of a moment compelling enough to capture potentially millions of people. Is there something more to these images than merely a dramatic scene and good composition? The flat, dead nature of passport photos would imply not.
There is also the idea of trust. Some element of trust is required before you’ll allow someone to photograph you (people who’ll just do it anyway aside), and a rather larger element of trust is required, I’d think, before you’re comfortable enough with the photographer to be photographed well.
Of course, the paparazzi rely on this, since terrible, unflattering photos are more salacious and thus worth more, and there is certainly no trust present in photos taken with a thousand-yard lens to imbue them with flattering qualities.
The other issue I have is that I believe most photography (maybe all?) is theatre. Professional photos are staged and painstakingly crafted and then the resulting images are even more painstakingly processed. The result is not “truth”. A look at what shows up in any women’s magazine reveals that glaringly enough. But hell, even amateur point-and-shoot cameras come with editing functions built into them these days. Artifice isn’t just for the pros anymore.
And where there’s that much artifice present, I don’t believe there’s any soul. Not that the people in the photos don’t have souls, just that the intent of art prevents the capture of them. (And my definition of art has long centered around the presence of intent.)
So other than the soul, what is captured, then? Appearance, certainly (photo editing notwithstanding). A moment in a timeline; archive of the physical state at a certain time and place. And, depending on the picture, a moment in the subject’s emotional timeline, too, perhaps. A memory trigger. As much as a smell or a song or any other number of sensory inputs can trigger people, places, and things, a photo is a visual cue to take you elsewhere.
I disagree, too, that photos aren’t duplicates, of the fragments of the soul or anything else. Photos or any other sort of recording are duplications of what was or what happened. Sometimes there are many duplications (like the aforementioned iconic images), and sometimes a single image is the only witness to that ever so brief moment of exposure.
Guess it’s a tree falling in the forest argument, though. Hard to prove anything without “sensory approved” evidence. Of course, with the aforementioned processing and editing, sensory approval can’t be trusted either, these days. (“Real” becomes pretty subjective when the only image/record has been edited, though, and the original is lost…)
I wonder about power, too. If photographing something more gives you more power over it (or more fragments of it, or whatever). Kind of like the idea of belief in a deity giving its existence power. Or maybe being the subject of fascination gives power over the photographer to the subject. Muses are not passive vessels, after all.
One wonders, too, if amassing images, thousands upon thousands as it’s so easy to do these days, decreases the value of them. Just one among so many, and so many similar, and so easy to lose or forget that one moment, that one image, that at the time seemed to have the promise of being iconic.