It’s not what you see but how you see it

In a recent post, I published a list of 19 things to make me happier in 2019. #3 on that list was: Print, frame and hang some special family photos. And it got me thinking …

I’m the only person I know who doesn’t have family photos on display in the home. In my defence, I could argue that it’s because we recently moved house and I still have some unpacking to do. And that would be true if you considered a move 18 months ago to be ‘recent’. A bit of a stretch, I think.

Prior to that, we lived in a rental for 18 months while we renovated and sold our old home then searched for a new one. I didn’t bother hanging photos, prints or artwork during this time because, you know … landlords can be a bit precious about tenants marking walls etc 🙄

If I’m honest, there’s more to this pattern of behaviour than meets the eye. I had very few family photos on display in that old home of 27 years. Sure, there weren’t many horizontal surfaces on which to place framed photographs, but we had blank walls aplenty.

So, why leave them blank? Why not adorn them with artful displays of pictures capturing the special moments in our lives? Transporting us to a different time and place? Reminding us of who we were and what we valued, the stories behind the images?

Lord knows there’s no shortage of images to choose from!

We have literally thousands of 5″x 7″ prints, still in photo store packaging with the corresponding negatives, gathering dust in big plastic storage boxes. Little legacies of the life we’ve led – family, friends, travels, experiences, food and more. All developed at considerable cost. Most showing a distinct lack of photographic ability.

Add to that thousands of images taken on digital cameras and smart phones, most destined for oblivion on a hard disk, USB or online photo library in the cloud.

So many photos! Too precious to throw away or delete, but not precious enough to curate for display in albums or frames. It makes no sense. And yet …

I’m overwhelmed by the sheer volume of images and the time I know it will take to sort through them. And that makes perfect sense. As soon as I open one of those storage boxes or cloud libraries, I’ll become immobilised by nostalgia, trapped by reminiscence and incapable of attending to any other task until the journey down memory lane is complete.

Then there’s another beast I’ll need to tame before the family photo gallery can open to the public – self-consciousness, or more specifically, reluctance to display any photo that doesn’t meet my exacting standards. Of course, this is code for … I need to look en pointe in the photo for it to be worthy of a place on the wall. An admission I’m embarrassed to make 😞

Professional photos automatically make the grade. Let’s face it – professionals can make anyone look good. Sadly, we’ve had very few such photos taken over the years.

When it comes to happy snaps, as a minimum, I want clear, crisp images with true colour. No blurriness, stray fingertips, headless subjects, photobombers … you get the gist. More importantly, I want everyone to appear how I saw them in the flesh at that moment when the shutter clicked.  In all our real and imperfect glory. Flaws and all …

On second thoughts, maybe not too many flaws … and definitely in the most flattering light possible. That’s not too much to ask, is it? 😬

Well, as it turns out, it might be …

According to this article by Photofeeler, we’re bound to look different in pictures than in real life. Camera distortion warps our proportions. Going from 3D (real life) to 2D (picture) creates optical illusions. Our brain is like Photoshop, but a camera is not as clever. Photos are static and people are not. And so it goes …

But is there a way to work these limitations to our advantage?

Millennials and Generation Z have clearly discovered the secret. Social media is saturated with their homogeneous images, perfected over many hours of ‘selfie’ trials and errors. Learning how to work the angles, manipulate their body shape, show their best side, produce their most flattering facial expression on cue. Uggghh! Sounds too much like hard work to me. And a bit of an uphill battle 😩

No. I think I’m better off practising and perfecting how to let go of self-consciousness and self-criticism.

What constitutes a good photograph is always subjective, and a recent scientific study confirms we’re not great at judging pictures of ourselves. How good we (or others) think we look (or not) in a photo is influenced by our biases and what we know to be true based on our experience and past interactions. The cumulative average of a person’s facial movements and expressions are as important to our perception of them as their physical features, and often at the core of their beauty or appeal. Yet it’s something which can’t be captured in a single photo.

There are no bad pictures; that’s how your face looks sometimes. ~ Abraham Lincoln

So, if that fleeting awkward expression or bad hair day happens to be the one immortalised in a photo, it’s simply bad luck, because it’s unlikely anyone would remember it otherwise. It’s the truth for a moment in time, but not the whole truth.

I can also remind myself why I take photos in the first place. To capture a memory or a spontaneous and raw emotion. Tell a story or offer a glimpse into an important moment in our lives. Trigger conversations about the past and, in doing so, strengthen relationships with our loved ones.

And finally, when curating my photos, I can keep in mind perhaps the most important selection criterion – that the image itself makes me feel something wonderful. Puts a spring in my step. A smile on my dial. Warms the cockles of my heart. For it’s in those responses that the true beauty and allure of a photo lies.

A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. ~ Irving Penn

Amen to that!

How do you select photos to display in your home?

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