The problem with photography today

This is embarrassing to say, but I noticed a sheer lack of photos of myself while trying to set up dating profiles. Common knowledge dictates that "selfies" and mirror shots are unflattering for males to have, yet when presented with my choices, that was mostly what I was dealing with; albeit - in my defense - not many of those either, considering I avoid taking selfies if at all possible. (I can't help it when I have a good hashtag-good-hair-day though.)

The lack of photos is due to two factors.

  1. I am adversely opposed to posing for group photos. This may seem strange coming from an actor - Posing is basically what I'm supposed to do for photoshoots, after all. The difference here being that I don't like fake smiles - or inauthentic moments.
  2. My friends don't like to take photos. Whether "in general" or simply "of me" is still debatable. I'm sure I'm not that interesting, and no one feels the need to document my life as much as I do. The more likely truth is that I am the one with the camera, and since that is the case, my friends subconsciously leave the photo taking to me; therefore reducing my chances to find myself in front of a camera.

I bring this up because, as mentioned previously, I am an actor - and I have no qualms with getting my photo taken. Yet looking through my own albums and galleries, if I had never took it upon myself to turn the camera around, it would seem like I didn't exist for years.

Why is that? I began to wonder. With the exception of a girlfriend or two (girlfriends do love their selfies) - and the occasional dreaded group photo, why is no one seemingly taking photos anymore?

It's not that our lives are undocumented. On the contrary, our lives seem to be more documented than ever before. Brunch has never been so popular. Not to mention the tremendous leaps of technology that allow us to take better pictures with our phones today than we could with some cameras ten - maybe even five - years ago. Photography is an essential part of social media now. Or, at the very least, the sharing of images certainly is. There is definitely more encouragement to pick up a camera now than there ever was. So where are all the photos of me?

(I again present the argument that I am just not interesting enough.)

One conclusion that I have jumped to is that - with the growing number of "photographers" and the sheer amount of cameras in peoples hands within today's society - professional photographers are forced to set themselves apart. Instead of using their expensive camera for every day moments or around their friends, they relegate them to paid work. They find a niche and a style and they stick to it. The accrue equipment and a reputation that shows their clients, "You could rely on your cousin with his fancy iphone, or you could let me do this for you." And they keep things strictly professional.

With this mindset it's easy to see why they wouldn't want to pick up a camera during their every day encounters. Because it is considered work, and if they are not at work they don't want to worry about it. At least - this is the impression that I get. The other option for professional photographers is to simply give it up. My brother got a degree in photography - and recently he gifted me his digital camera to focus on other art pursuits. Another friend of mine decided to work strictly in film - enjoying the process of never knowing how the photo is going to turn out. When the world is full of people who can take "good photos" with their smartphones, can you blame them?

What are we left with then? Selfies. Pictures of our breakfast. Awkward Group Photos.

And, of course, pictures of our children.

Because this seems to be the only time where our need to "capture the moment" doesn't always require us to "interject ourselves into the moment." (ie: the selfie.) Pictures of our kids and our pets are the result of us noticing how precious the moment really is, and wanting to capture a split second of it.

I want to make that distinction clear. Whereas the majority of society is under the impression that selfies and group photos are their way of capturing the moment I am of the belief that they are quite the opposite. You are not "capturing the moment", you're interrupting it, and creating a moment that doesn't exist naturally. This is my aversion to them in the first place. Yet for some reason our society has told each other that "you need to be in the photo" and we have to find a way to interject ourselves into every single moment. Not only that, but it has to be perfect; which often results in "I wasn't ready" or "let's do one more just in case."

Photographers, however, have trained their minds to think another way. To observe their surroundings, see the moment, and carefully capture it, as to not disturb anything currently happening. Of course, sometimes photographers get paid to create a moment; whether in a studio or at your wedding, but what they're really looking for is the truthful stuff. The moments in between all the posing and the perfecting - when your guard is dropped for an instant - is the stuff they really want.

If you've watched Stranger Things on Netflix recently then you're aware that one of the characters enjoys photography. He says to another character that he'd rather observe people. Photographing is a way for people to show who they really are - especially when they're not paying attention. "They don't really say what they're thinking, but if you capture the right moment, it says a lot more."

I've always been a guy with a camera. Since High School I've always been fascinated with capturing moments on video. Back then it wasn't normal to always have a camera around. Smartphones didn't exist, and lenses on cameras were relatively new - or non-existent. I remember encountering a lot of opposition when I brought my camera around the wrong people. They would cover their faces or push me away (depending on how close I was.) The common sentiment back then was people were afraid to be in front of the lens, believing that they looked ugly or awkward. The opposite side of the spectrum were people mugging for the camera. Pulling faces or sticking their tongues out. It was a very frustrating affair. (remember this was before the digital age as well. I still had to capture moments on film!!)

I remember thinking, in both cases, that I wish people would stop noticing. This wasn't about them. It was about me capturing something worth remembering. "Put your hands away, if not for yourself, then for me." I would say, because I didn't want to look back on this and not remember your faces. It was fairly selfish at first, but I just didn't know how to articulate my frustration. I simply wanted people to continue being themselves - and I wanted to capture that.

Nowadays society has changed.

We are much more comfortable in front of cameras and lenses. We are practiced picture takers and have invented a word for the perfectly filtered self-portrait. The same people who were against me pointing the camera in their direction ten years ago have now mastered the duck-face.

Snapchat. Instagram. Youtube. These are all things. In fact, it's almost abnormal NOT to live your life in front of a camera.

But that doesn't make us all photographers.

There are a lot of good digital images out there. But there are a lot less moments being captured.

This is why I don't claim to be a photographer. I don't want to get paid for it and I highly doubt I'll ever have the techniques to produce amazing/compelling images. What I am interested in, whether it's through video or stills, is capturing moments. So much so that a good friend of mine once criticized me by saying I "hide behind the camera."

I think that's a terrible mis-observation, if you think I am the one hiding, but more importantly it's a shame that I'm still being discouraged to do something that seems to be so much more accepted today.

I know this is only the opinion of one human being amongst a sea of many, but I can't help but think there's an unconscious message we're sending our photographers today, with all our selfies and manufactured moments. We're pushing away the ones who were born to observe. We're - in essence - telling them that "we got this" when it comes to documenting everyday life.

Theres no need for your skills, just tell me which filter to use.

I have a group of friends who are always confused about what to do when I point the camera at them. They immediately take notice and try to smile or tilt their head or put their arms around each other (as if that still indicates the best of friendship.) "Don't do that." I tell them. "What are we supposed to do then?" "You're not supposed to do anything."

Just be.

mattias marasigan