We frame moments in our living rooms to showcase the best version of ourselves. We make sure our widest smiles make it onto the mantle, smiles we can’t recall smiling. Hopefully, this curated happiness will please those who grace our homes who only make it to the living room and never further. Maybe that’s why we don’t spend so much time in our living rooms, it doesn’t feel like us does it?
I am the owner of a Polaroid camera because my best friends gifted me one, it’s made me a more conscious photographer. I can’t waste film. My phone, on the other hand, is a junkyard of photos taken from multiple angles, blurred clicks, squinted eyes, crazy faces and weird lighting. When we are not pressed for space, we can click as many pictures we like, try every expression or pose, if it doesn’t come out right you can try again.
With a Polaroid the pressure is enormous. I weigh moments, questioning their worth. I weigh people too, are they worth a shot? I look for perfection in moments, wanting it to be something I’ll cherish. When I click a photo on my phone, I have filters to help me out. I remember sprawling myself on my bed with piles of old photo albums, going through them recollecting memories and curious to know what happened before I graced the world with my presence. Now I don’t feel the same pleasure going through my phone gallery.
I was a kid who wasn’t photogenic, I loved to make faces at the camera or shut my eyes at the wrong moment. My photographs as a child included an interesting range, my smirk was the star, present in every photo. I was a schemer, sometimes my head would be in a laundry basket or I’d be the model wearing my sister’s creations, I was too young to refuse her outfits. Just being able to be included in her experiments was enough for me as a younger sister. The times my photos came out well were when I wasn’t even aware of the camera.
Now every picture I take, I make the same smile, a smile without that smirk, a smile that won’t reach my eyes. I was never allowed to take photos as a kid because I had butterfingers and was very clumsy, cameras were expensive back then. The nature of photos has changed. Photos were an event back in the day, we’d decide where we’d stand, make sure everything was perfect, the camera only came out on special occasions and vacations with limited clicks because we had to get the film developed at a photo studio. Now you take out an SD card the size of a cornflake and you’re set.
Today I have the phone camera ready for a nice dish or a sunny day. I’m more concerned about the captions. Now the purpose is not to make memories it’s to make sure your social media account looks glamorous. I want people to think a certain way about me so I will post those photos that show that side of me. I find it exhausting on some days and on other days I look for Instagram posts in my life.
I can crop the flaws, adjust the lighting and set the right filter that makes me look good. The memories instead are in my head or in my diary. When I got the Polaroid camera I told myself I will only click those moments that I am sure I’d never want to forget and with people I don’t want to forget so that one day when I am old I’ll have something close to an album in my drawer, not a folder on the laptop.
I always wondered about candid photography, it’s tough to make yourself look like you’re not trying. I can never do that, in fact, it’s usually in the candid clicks where I look my worst. We all know there are some photos of ours we’d like to be buried in history. These are photos held by best friends so that one day they can blackmail you with them. Clicking photos today is no big deal and selfies mean you don’t have to ask someone else to click your photo for you. I remember when we used to go on vacations and at tourist attractions, there were always photographers who’d click your photos for you and you’d have to pay them, now you wouldn’t see them there.
Those dusty albums sit in drawers as we continue to create new folders. I remember when I used to treasure a photo and keep it between pages to keep it safe. A photo was a gift, not a token. It was something you’d treasure and select, now not so much. I don’t know what I’ll put on my mantle when I get my own place.
I admit not every photo is honest and that is not their purpose. The neatly lined figures, all smiling before a monument, all looking into the camera’s eyes as if trying to tell their future selves not to worry about them. So that the onlooker may assume that they are alright.
The kids might have fought over ice cream two minutes before the photo, the mother might have scolded a kid, or fixed their appearance for them, the dad would have asked why they needed a photo anyway because they had so many knowing that he would be the one making the trip to the photo studio to collect the photos. But in that one second, they agree that they are a family, acknowledging that no matter what when worst comes to worst they will still smile for the camera. Maybe the two girls in the photo laughing for the camera may have got into a terrible fight after that photo, or cried, who is to know? But when somebody says ‘cheese’ we’ll all quieten, we’ll all look the same way, we’ll all smile because none of us know when we’ll get to smile for the camera again.
It’s unfortunate that today even if we frown for the camera we can always take another one and pretend like it never happened we can choose to save or delete. We have so many chances to be happy and yet we’re not.