Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Revisionist History, Grammy-Style

Now, that's fascinating. My friend Jon, after seeing the most recent photo of my grandmother, wrote: "I've said it before and I will say it again. Seniors are my favorite people in the world to spend time with and to talk to. I love and treasure them all. But I never want to be one. If that is what ends up happening though, I hope I can summon up a smile as often and as sincere as your grandmother."

I'm with you on the getting old thing, Jon.

But the fascinating part is how Jon believes my grandmother smiles a lot. Honestly, my grandmother is one of the most miserable people I've ever met, senior citizen or otherwise. She complains non-stop, about everything you can imagine. She even complains about everyone being so negative in life.

It's interesting that because I occasionally shoot my grandmother smiling, and selectively post just those images, that it actually creates a view of someone that's simply not true. It creates an image. A personality of my devising. And when Gram's gone (soon, but not soon enough for her), those images will be what's left of her in the world. It's the way she'll be remembered, I hope.

It's testament not only to the power of photography, but also the power of editing, I guess.

Maybe the photos represent a wishful memory of someone who doesn't exist anymore. And maybe never did.

1 comment:

Jonderson said...

One of my favorite photos of my grandfather was taken shortly before he died, and in it he is smiling. Not just smiling with his mouth, but with his entire being. Normally, that was not such a rare thing, but at the time it was very rare. He died of Alzheimer's, something I would not wish on my worst enemy. It was very difficult, protracted, and sad. For him it was exceedingly frustrating. I don't even know who took the picture, probably my mom or my sister, but whoever it was captured an extremely rare and precious moment. An instant of happiness in a tub full of crap.

You are right that pictures can give people the wrong impressions of someone (or something). Sometimes purposefully. Nobody seeing this picture of my grandfather would suspect that anything was at all wrong, when in fact he was probably smiling at something that was not even rational.

This ability to mislead, as you suggest, is powerful. It probably has more than a little to do with my hesitation to use Photoshop on my images. You have to with most human portraits of course, and to make traditional darkroom adjustments, but beyond that I almost never use it. It makes me feel complicit in the misleading.

The other aspect of this is that it is really hard to take photos of people you know well. You know what constitutes a "good" photo of them, and you are correspondingly picky. You have an idea of what they ought to look like in your head, and you try to capture that. That can make shooting family members difficult, and can cause you to miss (or dump) some of what others would see as really good shots.