500 Words on Pictures: Make It Then, Now Take It

Walking the dog this morning, a young guy passed in front of me, backlit by the morning sun on the thoroughfare.  He had on a short-billed cap with a hood pulled up half covering his head, and he wore a narrow goatee that he stroked pensively as he strode on.  Because I was listening to a podcast and had the capability in my pocket, the thought flashed through my mind to take his picture.

Most people don't want to have their picture taken by a stranger without permission, so I wondered if asking would do any good.  All this came to mind in the few perpendicular steps it took for him to exit my view and continue on with his morning.  I realized, as I turned the corner, that today we truly take pictures as opposed to one-hundred-plus years ago when pictures were veritably made.

Some cultures believe that the snapshots take a piece of the subject's soul; the photographic process itself, for these peoples, is a way to rob time or a slice of the spirit from a subject, even if permission is granted.  It's no wonder, beyond the pain and suffering of persecution, that photos of Native Americans in the late 1800's portrayed grim faces and steeled eyes, expressions of disdain, sometimes with a glint of fear, and almost always a sense of contempt.

To make a photograph used to be such an undertaking, as well.  The laborious process was methodical and painstaking, yielding a product that was a fine record of a moment but only after great effort.  Materials were rather costly, and venues for portraiture were relatively few (not the Glamour Shots in every mall or the portable digital ease of today).  But, the result of having your picture "made" was a lasting sliver of a life at that particular moment and something to be cherished.

Now we "take" pictures because it's just that simple and quick.  For the most part, there isn't any thought given to the process.  Of course, in terms of quality and realism, with the addition of color and high-defintion resolution, the photographs taken today can even venture into hyper-realism.  Even so, what are all those pixels worth if we can no longer see ourselves?

Would this kid be happier in hi-def?

I recently had a chance to sit for a portrait.  The process made me think about how I look to the rest of the world, how the mirror is only an estimation of my face, my identity.  I recall a Paul Simon lyric to that effect:  "...how I look to a distant constellation that's dying in the corner of the sky" or thereabouts. Maybe this is is what the Native Americans sensed; it was better to be as one was, without seeing from the outside, rather sensing oneself through the mind's eye instead of the camera's.

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