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The Digital Medium is a Mess
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
Back when I had more time, I was way into photography. I recently posted some photos I'd taken years ago in a Facebook photo album, and tagged faces. I had quite a few people comment on how good they were. I'm not Greg Gorman, or Annie Leibovitz, but I like to think I can take some good pictures, particularly of people. I've only done a few weddings (too nerve-wracking), but portraits were my favorite. I consider portraiture one of the hardest things to get right (second only to weddings), and I was always really happy when I got great shots of my subjects, especially if they were reluctant to pose a certain way. I'm different when I have a camera in my hand. It's like having a magic wand, or scepter: do my bidding, peasant! Smile, dammit! And poof, people do what I say. It's so satisfying when I'm right. It's very satisfying when I look through the viewfinder and the picture is great: the subject has the right pose, the shadows are where they should be, and the lighting is something magical.
Digital photography does have its advantages. You can delete photos you don't want. You can take tons of pictures until you get the right one. And unlike an entire roll of film, you can select only the images you want to print. Back in the day, photography was an expensive hobby and time-consuming, if you developed your own prints. In college, I'd spend hours shading and dodging my prints in the darkroom. I realized that I liked doing the creative side, not the grunt work, which is why I was elated when Kodak came out with black and white film that was C-41 process (developed with the same chemicals as color film, and which could be processed in one hour photo labs). It meant I could shoot in black and white, and not have to deal with the boring end.
So I look at other people's pictures, especially the Facebook/dating site photos, and I cringe. With the advent of cell phones and digital cameras giving nearly everyone the ability to take pictures anytime, anywhere, way too many people think having a camera makes them a photographer. For those who have never studied photography, they might think, “what's the big deal? You just point a camera at something or someone, and push the button.”
If photography were that easy, the millions of “self-portraits” of people who post photos of themselves in front of a mirror while gazing into their cellphones would not exist. I can't tell you how many photos I've seen like that. I blame digital cameras and camera phones for the barrage of terrible photos seen on every social networking website you can name. Dating websites are the worst. Why anyone posting a photo on a dating site would put something up that looks downright terrible is beyond me. You are promoting yourself, for God's sake. Why would you put up a picture of yourself gazing into a cellphone? Or a blurry shot? Or one where you are looking particularly stoned/stupid/ridiculous? And it seems like the majority of those photos are taken in front of a full-length mirror. I admire these people for showing the kind of shape they are in, but those photos are stupid. The website, “You are Not a Photographer” is a hilarious look at all sorts of bad photos, Photoshop disasters, and questionable portraits from people who have opened their own photography “studios” with the purchase of their first digital camera.
There are certain cultures that don't want their pictures taken. Either they think the camera steals part of their soul, or that it smacks of egotism. My own personal theory is that I am only photogenic during certain times of the day, or when I am in control of the camera. I'm such a control freak that if someone requests a photo of me, I take it myself. Thankfully, I have a fairly decent point and shoot digital camera. In true obsessive-compulsive style, I take a couple dozen photos of myself and narrow them down to the two or three that don't make me cry. I know how to pose to minimize the double chin, and I know better than to shoot myself in profile. If I do a full-length shot (which I've not done in a long time) I know that the pants have to fit perfectly. If they are too small, I have muffin-top going on, and it accentuates the fact that my torso is huge. I'm not an ideal subject, and I know that.
But one thing I do know, and that's how I know all my photography training has paid off, is that when I post photos of myself, I'm not standing in front of a mirror, looking into my digital camera. I have respect for the medium.
And beware of someone's Facebook page who has literally hundreds of photos of themselves posted. They will either be completely narcissistic or wannabe models. And if you see a hundred photos of only the person's face, chances are that person has a major weight problem.
But then, that's the real reason Photoshop was invented: easiest weight loss plan EVER!