Snap Judgments: Our Societal Obsession With Taking Pictures
It was a simple enough equation. The bride and groom-to-be were broke. Wedding photos were expensive. A family member who owned a small photography business offered to shoot the wedding for free, and the couple conceded. But once the honeymoon ended, the bride was crushed when her images didn't compare with the charming wedding photos uploaded by Facebook friends.
She and her husband elected to fly in a photographer to "retake" the wedding pictures on their six-month anniversary. The pictures conveyed everything the wedding photos hadn't: the ease and sweetness of their interactions. The euphoria of being young and in love. The promise of friendship in the years to come. The bride finally had what she wanted: photos she loved and loved to show off. But at what cost?
Now, before anyone accuses this couple of vanity, let's admit we've felt a similar tug of disappointment before, whether for a group photo ruined by a silly facial expression or a close up captured at an unflattering angle. Why do we care deeply about how our photographs turn out? Why do we treat beautiful photos as the ultimate markers of special events?
We live in a culture that values images, immensely. We give images permission to influence our ideas, shape our identities, and saturate our daily routines. The speed with which we share our photos, the social obligation by which we post them ("These are going on Facebook, right?"), and the masses with which we share them signify their value. Each day, we upload more than 5.2 million photos to Instragram and 100 million to Facebook, with no signs of slowing down our snapping and sharing. In an age of camera phones and digital photography, we can all become photojournalists documenting our own lives.
In a sense, this is totally natural. Photographs speak to the age-old custom of physically marking spaces and moments in thanksgiving and remembrance. Old Testament Jacob did this very thing upon dreaming of a heavenly ladder and God's divine utterance: he set up a rock and named it "Bethel." No one told him to do this. Rather, something within propelled him to physically mark the space with an altar, a visible reminder that God was with and for him.
The danger of using photos as markers is that images appeal to our vanity. We become quickly obsessed with accumulating experiences, capturing them in photos, and publicly displaying our photos as trophies. If we aren't careful, our Facebook pages and blogs can become trophy cases of our own accomplishments: Me, on a church mission trip, lumped in with a group of smiling ethnic children. Me, presenting a paper at a conference to the wild, raucous applause of my colleagues (okay, okay, that didn't actually happen). Me at the altar with a man, and, nine months later, at different stages of my pregnancy.
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