But in the old days, if one wanted one’s own image represented, one sat for a hand-created portrait. These often took weeks of planned session. Time spent. Finished work, considered an heirloom, a masterpiece.
In one sense, the human portrait was of service to the social class system. One qualified for one’s own represented image, by virtue of rank.
The image rendered was a likeness, but intended to embody much more: personality, vision, depth of thought, relative physical beauties. Those who gazed upon it were expected to uphold its image and remember the life depicted therein. And, whether or not the person in the portrait was even truly worthy of such representation played second to its ultimate value.
Historically, such images were even used to generate human interest on a personal level. For females, suitors were given such portraits in advance of the first meeting, to stir the imagination.
Over time, certain notions of what are visually pleasing or acceptable features have entered the photographic equation. In spite of this, portraits have been displaced by the candid “snapshot”. Now, our image – and, everything each one embodies – appears suddenly, no matter how jarring or even grotesque its capture may be. In one sense, we are all forced – against our will, better judgment, or loftiest aspirations – to face our basest truths. And, these pictures stick to us like glue. They become our personal perceptions of who and what we are.
Now, any image of us might appear at a moment’s notice. Any sudden flicker of expression, jerk of muscle, angle of movement. Fixed forever by the click of that shutter. Naked revelations, all — of a set of truths called human behavior. To the narrator in all of us, this is a field day of opportunity.
I can remember my music students being videotaped in performance one year by a local working professional. The result was a captivating essay in a truth that I, as teacher, did not expect or desire: the eye that beheld my students that day was interested only in capturing not the level of excellence on display or the collective accomplishment of my students, but the moments of childlike honesty that represented every emotion carried by a child forced to perform for his parents: nervous distraction, momentary uncertainty, fear, comic clumsiness. Not a single close up of any of the children who were confident, prepared, or enjoying the process could be found. The result was a study in not my own imagined success as their teacher but in what was merely seen as entertaining by the videographer. I was incensed, profoundly disappointed, and considered that depiction a representation of my professional failures.
A couple weeks ago another public event took place, and I was there in part as audience and performer. This was the annual Erie Music Teachers’ Association student recital, held at a lovely venue complete with solar light. But, as each student sat at his or her instrument, persuading such music and with such completely devoted effort ( we in the audience enrapt by every note) up crept the hired photographer into our periphery. Kneeling, crouching, click click clicking. These sounds penetrated the beauty of the music like a caught insect in a strange, confined space. The very presence of this insistent camera, intent upon producing frozen abstractions in the most organic and fluid human process outside of childbirth was almost repugnant.
When one overlays noteworthy human events, one gets yet another angle in this narration. Enter: 9/11/01. Now, certain individuals who possess facial characteristics consistent with perceived or alleged threat, i.e. a particular bone structure, become subject to the eye of that beholder. And, should one of us possess any of these physical traits, we learn to avoid that camera like we would a loaded gun.
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Yes. This past week, my picture was taken. The cameras were in the hands of local Tv affiliates, colleagues, employees. These images subsequently appeared on Facebook and on local television. And, I was reminded yet again of what one really looks like when personality plays its tricks across the human face. No portrait artist magically appeared to render me in any fanciful light. No photoshop expert was on hand to buff and polish the surface angles of an aging frame. Nobody was there to save me from a soulless viewfinder; it was showtime, and there was no makeup or costume to hide behind. Those vignettes we would otherwise voluntarily choose to recall in our visual memories of those we love were all displaced by the arbitrary lens of necessity: click the shutter, capture the event, and send it to print. What a confrontation.
Get the picture?
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 6/5/13
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