I very nearly posted a photograph on my Facebook page the other day. This would have been a rare event. Normally the page simply sits there, unchanging, like a picture on a gallery wall. Some of my friends post pictures of themselves, their friends, relatives, pets, airports they are passing through, and even meals they have cooked or eaten in restaurants. But I don’t want to force my friends to live my whole life at second hand, it’s just not that interesting.
This instant sharing is a result of the technology that gave us the instant picture. Photography was my favorite hobby when I was a teenager. But it was a slow and sedate business. First you needed to buy a film, black or white or color, load it into the camera, test the light with a light meter, adjust the lens aperture, apply a filter perhaps, set the shutter speed and focus, set up a tripod if necessary, and you were ready to take your picture. By this time it was often too late: the subject had changed, moved away, or died.
When and if the subject had been captured on film the drama was far from over. First I had to finish the rest of my film, so as not to waste it. This might take days, or weeks. Then I had to take it to the photographic shop for developing and printing. This was Mr. Kellet’s shop at the wrong end of the High Street. He would take the exposed film with a skeptical air, and tell me to come back in a few days. His service was nothing if not personal. If he decided that any of my negatives were of poor quality or not interesting enough, he would simply not print them. Getting an enlargement involved a major argument over whether or not the picture was worth it. Mr, Kellet developed films only when he had a large enough batch to make it worth his while to mix the chemicals, so customers might have to wait some time for the results. Finally the prints were ready, in a little yellow packet, and it was so long since the pictures had been taken that they were almost a surprise.
The only thing left to do was to find someone willing to sit down and look at my wonderful photographs, and this was often the hardest part. When they saw the little yellow packet in my hands friends would flee in all directions. Only my parents, through a sense of duty, could be persuaded to look through the prints and make suitably appreciative comments.
So old-fashioned photography was a long, complicated process. Fast photography is like fast food. There’s no need for thought, preparation, skill, technique or patience. It’s just there, like a cheeseburger, ready to grab and go. All the complicated stuff has been done for us, in Silicon Valley or China. A few taps on the screen will send our images instantly to dozens or hundreds of unsuspecting people, whether they like it or not. The only question is: why? Having no answer to this I decided not to post my new snapshot on Facebook. The world can do without an update on my appearance, which is exactly the same today as it was yesterday. The cliché says that a picture is worth a thousand words, but it would take far more than a thousand words to explain our long love affair with pictures of ourselves.
Copyright: David Bouchier