A Belief in Photography
I’ve been spending time with the book, Annie Leibovitz at Work, lately. It’s a wonderful volume. I look at her work fairly frequently online, but no surprise, I’m here to say that it’s great to look at photos in a book such as this one. Sitting with them on your lap, or on a coffee table, or the kitchen table. Just opening a book up and leaving it open so that when you walk by, you can look at a particular photo, glimpse it, become used to its presence….that’s something very nice and good, and just feeds your soul in small lovely ways.
Leibovitz writes about the experience of shooting the O.J. Simpson trial. She says,
“One of the things this job did for me was reinforce my belief in photography. You may think that you can’t compete with the barrage of images on television, but individual pictures have their own impact. You can study them. They remain.”
I think it’s worth thinking about one’s belief in photography, in individual photos. I’m not a professional photographer. I think of myself as a photographer of the every day. I’m not ever going to sell my photos for serious cabbage. This is okay. I know what I’m trying to do with them, and that is to capture something of the ordinary and the everyday, in various ways that are available to me. Who knows what my photos will say in the end. The same goes for my writing. Who ever knows? But I know that the practice of photography and of writing changes me. It enlarges me, it sharpens me, it opens me up some days so damned wide that I’m a flower whose petals have fallen to the earth. I’m somebody else. Frame by frame, this practice has changed me.
Also in the same book, Leibovitz talks about smiling for the camera. And this is something I want to think about more. She says:
“Where did “Smile for the camera” come from? It’s a tic. A way of directing attention to the camera. “Look at the birdie.” The smile is a component of family pictures. Mothers don’t want to see their children looking unhappy. My mother would hire a local photographer to make a family portrait and he would inevitably ask us all to smile. They were canned smiles. Forced. In the fifties, everything was supposed to be OK, although half the time it wasn’t OK. It took me years to understand the I equated asking someone to smile with asking them to do something false.”
Who knows why I’ve been going down memory lane a lot lately. Maybe because I unearthed a set of old photos and proofs from about 30 years ago from my short-lived “modelling” stint. Basically a local photographer was building his portfolio and a friend and me did some posing for him. It was actually pretty fun and strangely empowering for me. I was a weird looking kid, that’s just the truth, and my teeth are actually rubbish, and I never like showing them etc etc. Which he was fine with. He never cared that I didn’t want to smile. Here are some photos of the contact sheets, which honestly make me laugh, but there’s something interesting about revisiting someone who you once sort of were:
It’s interesting looking at old photos of yourself. Thinking, hey, I looked pretty okay, when at the time, I know I thought I looked rubbish. And others have said this, but I’m now 53, and maybe when I’m 73, I’ll look back and think, not so shabby. Maybe. As my husband always says, may we live so long.
And anyway, the reminder: the pictures remain. They tell us things in the future that the present makes cloudy.