Narcissism In The Photographic World

In the early 1950’s Magnum Photographer Robert Capa came up with the term Generation X , which was a title of a photo essay he had about young men and women growing up immediately after World War II. To quote Capa he said “We named this unknown generation, The Generation X, and even in our first enthusiasm we realized that we had something far bigger than our talents and pockets could cope with.” As a photographer who is considered to be part of Generation X (those born between the early 1960s and early 1980s, yep that makes right smack in the middle) I am amazed at Capa’s insight on this generation. So how do I go from talking about Gen X to narcissism in the photographic world?

As part of Gen X it is scary to literally witness how the shift in technology  has effected the history of photography and how Gen Y (the generation after Gen X)  have a completely different view of the world directly because of the advancements in photography. Like any huge shift in technology there are going to be changes in the world socially and economically, but I feel in general the advancement of digital photography has really been downplayed in this new idea of a narcissistic world. Of course many can say the internet is to blame for this general narcissism, but ask yourself…. what was the internet like before digital photography became easy and accessible to all? In 1994 when my computer geek of a boyfriend told me the internet would the  new wave of the future, I am pretty sure I thought he was nuts. In my mind I didn’t see the internet as something visual, I saw it as bunch of computer data that wasn’t worth the time it took to figure out. Even as the internet advanced before 2005 all you saw was outdated photographs and silly graphics (watch any movie from the early 2000’s which makes references to the internet and you’ll see what I’m talking about).

The advancement of digital photography, combined with the internet has without a doubt made our culture more narcissistic than ever.  Some people may disagree with me, but in this new modern time of instant gratification and self promotion it has made it so photographers really have become the rockstars of this generation. Now many photographers will get upset at me for even using the term “rockstar” when it comes to photography, but it’s the reality. I’m actually not using the term “rockstar” the same way most people think of it though; I’m using it as an analogy to describe what is considered the “cool” profession of the time.  For those of us who grew up in the 70s-90’s it wasn’t cool to be a photographer…it was cool to be a musician. My teens years were obsessed, along with most of my friends with the changing culture of the music scene. Now days very rarely do I hear about friends going to see local band (although I know it happens) and it’s even more rare for someone to say that aspire to be a working musician or rockstar. On the other hand it’s seems like every other person I meet wants to be a photographer today.

Of course it’s cool to be a photographer now. In a world full of selfies, instant gratification, self promotion, and over sharing being a photographer means having the ability to make people look cool. Just last week I was watching an episode of “Glee” and Helmut Newton was actually brought up in the dialog. My first immediate thought was how the heck does this younger generation even know who Helmut Newton is.  Then I realized it didn’t matter if the viewers knew who Helmut Newton was, the point was that it was implied this woman had status because she had been photographed by a famous photographer. In the movie “Almost Famous” the theme that is constantly being thrown around is “just make us look cool”; which near the end almost backfires when William tells the truth. The allure of photography is that it is a lie. Photography has the ability to distort a story so we can share it the way we want the world to see it, especially when you add in a little photoshop. A great photographer fuels off this ability to show people what they want to see. The reality is photography has always been a lie and has always only told one part of the story from one person perspective, so why is it only now becoming so popular? It’s the ability to instantly share and modify the images so it’s exactly what people want to show.

So what does this mean to me? A little bit of this is a rant about how I’m not okay about how photography has changed the word.  But at the same time as a portrait photographer it’s my job to create images of people the way they want to see themselves. For me there needs to be balance and while I’m okay with telling a little lie (a little photo shop here & there, some nice lighting, good make up and posing) I am rationalizing it by saying I’m only making people look their best. It’s this world of making everything look aesthetically perfect that I decided to do a project that shows perfection differently. For the next six months I will be photographing couples (of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, backgrounds, ect) while giving them only one direction before I start to shoot. That direction is that they can only stand in an imaginary box (they can do whatever they want in the box, they just can’t step out). While I am photographing I will not talk to them and will only be shooting one roll of film &  it won’t be altered in anyway. For five minutes I will just be photographing them intimately as a couple. So far I have shot a few couples and without seeing the film yet, I was amazed at the connection I saw when the image wasn’t about the audience would think. Hopefully by next week I will have a few images to share, but the reality is I want to be inspired by other photographers who have something great to share with the world.

 

Here is an old shot I took titled “The Incomplete Self”. Shot on film the whole idea is in this world there is only is an illusion of what the perfect woman is, which leaves women in todays world feeling “incomplete”.

the-incomplete-self-art-photography-fim-kelly-segre

 

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