'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'
Posted by Tessa den Uyl and Martin Cohen
|USA, early 1900’s, photographer unknown. (Pvt. Collection).|
Today the talk is all about ‘Selfies’ and the rise of ‘look at me’ photography, but the early Twentieth Century snapshot also raised many questions about how we like to think of ourselves, how we see our place in the world and, hence too, the universe. The arrival of box cameras and chemically coated film in the roaring American century, provided a cheap medium in which not only to share beautiful scenes, but also to depict ‘the ugly’, the immediate, the unimportant, in playful, short, spontaneous resemblances.
Nonetheless, in a world of Selfies, we all too easily overlook how things only really become banal when the acceptance of a message is taken from within a specific context and is not granted further thought.
Goethe's gentle observation that beauty can never obtain clarity about itself, and that things remain true in their nature when veiled, seems to be briskly wiped away by the deceptive promises of modern photography to depict spontaneous resemblance. Instead, when we view pictures like the one above, we have to imagine ourselves a bit back in time, when being portrayed was as unusual for the ‘common man’ as eating caviar.
If, within a visible document, we can do this, then the urge to express a voyage towards self-interpretation simply explodes. How do we like to think of ourselves? How do we see our place in the world, and hence too, the universe? The ‘snapshot’ provided the possibility to create a culture of your own, and one might even come to think, for the American citizen, a way to break away from older, European traditions, escaping through the eye of a lens.
One of the main distinctions the snapshot has made, although it may have slipped into our consciousness without being noticed, is the difference between resemblance and semblance: to be like, and to seem like. If there is one thing about the snapshot we cannot ignore, it is this insubordination concerning the fragile commitment to semblance.
Nor is it only our perception about beauty that is transformed. The truth about what we see becomes more real than ever in the represented moment, and this taste of realness, of revealing immediacy, helps create a social conformity built from identification. Today’s ‘Selfies’ are the outcome of something that is now mainstream yet started from a movement more than a century ago, that ever since has not only been shaping us, but changing us, too.