Why Do We Love Photography? 

“In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art”, Barthes suggests in Camera Lucida. Photography has always been a form of self-expression, and at a time when our identities are thrown into crisis from a constant bombardment of social media, it makes sense that we’ve returned to photography as a way of both exploring and reflecting the different aspects of our various selves. Not only is it a way to capture our own memories, photography allows us to curate and refine the image of the self we try to project to the external world. The resurgence of film photography is perhaps a way of reflecting our personalities in a medium that allows us to treasure and show off the highlights of our life in a more truthful manner than digital photography.

The One I Think I Am

Photography can arguably be a lens through which we view the world. Capturing photos allows us to display our point of view and the images we take tell a story – about our lives or a moment in time. This allows us to get in touch with our role in the world and film photography in particular forces us to question what is most important to us. By being forced to rationalise what we choose to photograph, we highlight what we prize the most and this is remarkably telling about what we value. Photography can also be surprisingly therapeutic, as we pause to connect with our surroundings. Hence, one of the reasons for the resurgence in popularity of film photography could be the way in which it allows us to connect with our inner self.

The One I Want Others To Think I Am

The self we express through photography is often idealised and caricatured. In a society so tailored around image, photography is a way of showing off the lifestyle we wish we were leading. We can select and curate the best parts of our life for display. By capturing only the highlights of our lives, photography helps us create ‘another’ life for display to the outside world, and is a way of showing this off. Social media has heightened this and sometimes photography feels like a performance of a different, hyperreal self. Our lives aren’t as cultured or exciting as we make them out to be on film, but that isn’t an inherently bad thing.

The One The Photographer Thinks I Am

We’ve all been that person at a party asking everyone around them to take photos of them and their #squad (please don’t deny it). There’s perhaps a greater sense of authenticity in film photographs – having only one chance to get the perfect shot makes photos seem more real. It’s refreshing to move away from having to pose for a hundred photographs to find the one shot with nice lighting – even though this is also perfectly valid. The candidness of film photography makes photos feel more genuine and allows the subject’s personality to shine through. Film photographs seem more like actual memories than overproduced portraits, which makes film photographs perhaps a greater reflection of the self we think we are and the way we view the people most important to us in our lives.

The One He Makes Use Of To Exhibit His Art

In a reverse of the classic ‘I was here’ graffiti, photography allows us to capture landscapes and fleeting moments in our life to instead say ‘here was I’. We freeze time and encapsulate memories in a photograph, converting the multitude of events and places we experience into a series of images that we then use for our own purposes: artistic, sentimental or just for enjoyment. Film photography is surprisingly fun – there’s nothing like the sense of pride in seeing a batch of photos turn out well. Maybe at the end of the day film photography is just another nice way to make the most of the beautiful and intricate world we live in.

To move on from a Barthes’ quote to some classic Kanye West wisdom, maybe we do “only want my whole life to only be highlights”. We’re all out here trying to live our best lives, and film photography seems like a pretty good way of doing this. There’s something touchingly sentimental about the way film photographs capture our memories, whether they’re of our favourite people or places. The camera is a medium we can use to connect to the world around us and, through evaluating what we hold dear, we can in turn reflect our sense of self onto our photographs. Whether authentic or not, the candidness of film photography feels remarkably refreshing against the thousands of digital images we see daily.

[Catherine Bouchard – she/her – @cat_b_99]

[Photo credit: Viola Ragonese]

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