Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sepia Saturday 169 : In Praise Of Visual Anonymity

The Photographer Aged 14
You tend not to see many photographs of keen photographers. This is not just for technical reasons - until the new generation of camera phones it was difficult to see the preview through the viewfinder and appear in the shot yourself. There is, I suspect, a deep psychological explanation as well. People choose to take photographs so as not to appear in them : they choose to shoot rather than be shot, to take rather than be taken. It probably has something to do with self-image, the visual equivalent to hearing your recorded voice for the first time and being convinced that you couldn't possibly sound like that. If I show my dog, Amy, a photograph of herself, she simply ignores it, convinced beyond all rational explanation that this ragged-haired, tatty-head couldn't possibly be the fine featured canine she knows herself to be. With humans, self-denial is more difficult : "of course it is you dear, I just took the photograph, your are wearing your favourite blue trousers, and there is your Uncle Wilf stood next to you". And when self-denial is no longer an option, the best solution is to retreat to the other side of the lens and become the family photographer.

Occasionally, deep at night and when nobody is watching, we might check to see if  our self-image and our external image are still in mortal combat. We would sidle up to a mirror, click the shutter, process the negatives ourselves in the privacy our our darkrooms and hide any subsequent prints deep inside the brownest of brown envelopes. Fifty years later we may take the print out and hope that sepia-ageing has worked its magic, perhaps I really did look like that back in 1962. But no, I was a young Hercules; flaxen haired and taut-muscled I strode through life. Photographs are for others. The reward for the photographer is visual anonymity. 

This post was prompted by the image for Sepia Saturday 169 which shows a photograph of a group of photographers. To see how other Sepians have interpreted the image simply go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow some of the fascinating links.

22 comments:

  1. 14, didn't have a camera then, I was just an unbronzed Adonis - now I wish I'd been Peter Pan and hadn't aged over the intervening half century, and more.

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    1. Adonis, If you can avoid the wrong side of the camera lens, you can still convince yourself that you haven't aged. Regards, Hercules.

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  2. 1962; I had a brownie 127 with the old plastic lens, I'm sure that I was equally svelte, and my hair was definitely darker - I also rarely tun up in my own photos.

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  3. It's good Alan you can't actually hide behind a camera these day, they're too tiny. Anyway, other people's are everywhere, pointing at you and instantly sending the image off into cyberspace.

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  4. You've written another gem, Alan, and restored another artful photo too. I think in the olden days of film, the economy of having only 30 some frames, made learning composition skills more important. Today's digital cameras really only succeed in the editing room after deleting 99% of the poor and mediocre images. Sepians of the future will go through their virtual shoeboxes, knowing the digital details of when and maybe where & what too, but it won't be as fun as finding uncut diamonds like this.

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  5. A friend looked through my vacation pictures then said "How do I know you were there;you aren't in any of them."

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  6. Who let J. Alfred Prufrock into the room? I'm glad for the time-set thingee on today's cameras so that more family photographers can hurry and get into the frame before the flash.

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  7. Amy sounds adorable. That's a cute shot of 14-yo Photographer.

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  8. I took one photo of myself in my parents' bathroom mirror. I was still living at home so it must have been my bathroom mirror too. Remember when a family shared? Anyway, I can still see it in my minds eye...me wearing a man's button down shirt, oversized, holding an Instamatic chest high, gazing into the mirror with a slight smile. I'd like to see that shot again.

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  9. So true Alan. It's funny too, how every now and then I'll catch that glimpse of me taken even unbeknownst to me at the time.... But for me, it's so often the mystery of every picture I take, because often times there are those wonderful surprises that pop up unexpectedly. Please nobody ever take my picture taking ability away !!!

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  10. Fascinating discussion of our self image. It's the same for our personalities as well!

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  11. This is so funny, especially the part about the dog! I hated my 5th grade school picture, and I thought (still think) that it doesn't resemble me one bit. I told my Mom that I didn't like it, and she said, "Why, it looks just like you!" Great, just great, I thought, do I really look like that?

    I loved this post, Alan. Thanks for making me laugh.

    Kathy M.

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  12. But who took the photo? You can't have done it with mirrors.

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  13. My blog's profile picture is me with my camera reflected in a sculpture in the sculpture garden here. I have also shot my reflection in windows and my shadow.

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  14. You've outed many of us now, Alan. The tricky matter of self image is not a topic that's easily broached - you've given a very thoughtful photo, and the words with which to contemplate it.

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  15. OK, Alan, you've thrown down the gauntlet...I must now assemble some self-portraits!

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  16. I Cant Say I've Ever thought about it before but ,yes Alan ,your probably right.I have always looked at the issue the otherway around....although the photographer is absent, i think you learn a lot about her/him by how the people react (eye-contact;facial expression/body language:etc etc).Infact you 'see' the face of the photographer in the eyes of the people in the picture.

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  17. I hate having my picture taken and also listening to my recorded voice.

    Love the photo of you at 14 with your camera.
    Nancy

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  18. yes..I want to be behind the camera..and not in front of it..and leave some visual images about how I see the world not how the world sees me. I enjoyed your insights very much!:)

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  19. Great reflection here, and oh so true!!
    Self portraits are the hardest, I think.
    Not just technically speaking.
    One may want to cast a look over the world,
    but not that often on oneself.
    If I may,
    one of my contacts on Flickr who does a lot of self portraits,
    and she does them quite well, not afraid to look at the lens herself:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/pix-olga/tags/selfportrait/

    Me, I'll just keep shying away from the camera, my own and others'...
    :D~
    HUGZ

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  20. I'd rather have a photo of me rather than a recording of my voice. It looks a modern camera for those days.

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  21. Your points about photographers not having their photos taken are quite interesting. For my entire married life I have been the family photographer. Sadly, looking back I realize there are very few photos of me. I realize now that this is partly my fault as I always shied away from being in the photos and from usually being behind the camera. Of course, this is not a good thing because as the family historian, I have not left much behind of myself. I now try to occasionally allow myself to be photographed even though I do not like seeing myself in photos.

    And you are right about the voice recordings as well,I can never believe that is my voice!!

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