When I am frozen in a picture, I don’t enjoy looking at it.
“…it took me too long to realize
that i don’t take good pictures
cuz i have the kind of beauty
that moves.” ~ Ani DiFranco, Evolve
I came upon this lyric by Ani DiFranco from her song “Evolve” a while ago and it’s never left my mind. I have always hated being in photographs; always been the one to take pictures of things that only inspired: a lonely highway, a blazing sunset, the face of a full moon.
I never quite understood why people were obsessed with constantly taking photographs. Then I came upon a book: Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography by Roland Barthes. Now, to be clear, I am not a photographer. I am, however, bombarded with quasi-photographers wanting to capture every moment of life. It has left me feeling out of place in a world of people wanting to capture and be captured.
What is it about photographs that both dazzles and destroys me?
It is an existential dilemma, to feel both bewitched and melancholic, staring at faces and places that are now long gone.
Why do we feel a need to capture and be captured?
I am a restless person: I enjoy feeling and seeing, experiencing something in the moment and letting it float away. It’s natural: allowing a moment to exist only when intended and nothing more. A photograph, however, is macabre; it is stealing, capturing and unnaturally placing a moment in time into a vortex to live and replay over and over and over again. But it isn’t alive, is it? That photo is a ghost of a moment; a corpse of something that once was alive.
“What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.” ~ Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
It wasn’t until I discovered Roland Barthes’ views on photography that I could put into words that which I was feeling. You might say I hold the belief that a photo steals one’s soul. In fact, at the very molecular level of understanding, that is exactly what it does.
Take a photograph, hold it in your hands and stare into the eyes of the faces that are trapped there in that four by six frame. What do you feel? Nostalgia? Happiness? Longing? A part of you probably feels all of those things, depending on the photograph, but there is also a little feeling tucked away in a corner that you can’t explain.
The photograph seems to be alive and you can remember the exact moment; it is replaying in your head ‘just like it was yesterday.’ And that was why you (or the photographer) took it in the first place: to capture a moment you didn’t want to forget.
But the problem is that time cannot be captured. Moments cannot be frozen in time. Beauty is dynamic; it is movement, it is allowing time to proceed, as it should.
When I am frozen in a picture, I don’t enjoy looking at it. It is strange to me, to see a moment of my life captured after it has passed.
I don’t take good pictures because I am not meant to be captured.
My beauty is in my movement, my ability to live life not as a ghost but as an organism, alive and free. Can we really be mesmerized at the beauty of the fluttering of a butterfly frozen in a photograph?
Can we really feel the wind and smell the ocean, or hear our laughter in a photograph, now turning over and over like a one-track tape on repeat?
A photograph represents many things, many feelings, many experiences, but it also represents the dead; dead moments of time now kept like corpses on display.
“When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not emerge, do not leave: they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.” ~ Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
I take very little photographs, and when I do, it is a moment in time that evoked a certain feeling in me that I wanted captured forever.
And while I feel a sense of bewitchment as I look into photographs I’ve taken or photographs from hundreds of years ago, I still cannot help but feel disturbed as the moments hit me, even today, as if they are still being kept alive in a place long after they’ve been gone. Ultimately, a photograph is “…magic, not an art,” as Roland Barthes said.
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Editorial Assistant: Judith Andersson / Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Evil Erin on Flickr