Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Truth in Photos

On the heels of not trusting the English language . . .

Do you trust photos?

I'd been meaning to put a post up about smiling in photos, but just kept putting it off. Then a recent conversation I had with someone made me think about the whole concept again.

Here's the thing. There is a certain generation of people in Japan that won't smile for photos. This isn't so strange when you think about it. Look at pictures of your ancestors--or anyone's ancestors--taken circa 1900 when everyone was in black and white. They look grim. There are no candid, laughing pictures. I was always sort of disappointed, for example, that I couldn't get a sense of Laura Ingalls Wilder and what she "really" looked like--until I came across this older photo where she looks so natural, and then you get something of her warmth.

I am forever asking people in Japan to smile for me--especially family members. I am always trying to capture them looking relaxed and natural because I want to go home with a photo that reminds me of the "real" them. Sometimes this involves me looking dorky to try to elicit a smile from whomever I am posing with.

Really, though, the smiling thing shouldn't be so important, should it? I'm forever horrified when some homicidal mother is shown off in a photo in a newspaper with her kids--all smiling--as though everything is just fine, when clearly it wasn't. You can't trust those happy, smiling pictures.

My grandfather loves this picture. He asked me to use it as his official portrait when he dies. I guess I'm going to oblige, though I want to Photoshop out that black line over his head--it's a seam where two sliding doors meet.

I much prefer this photo because it looks much more natural. You get some sense of how much energy he has.

The thing is, though, it can be unsettling when someone catches you in a pose you didn't expect. I think, for example, of all those articles in gossip magazines (not that I've read them--I mean I've heard that they do this kind of thing. Okay, maybe I have read them at the salon while getting a pedicure) where "experts in body language" analyze what is going on between a couple. Can you really do that? Does a snapshot really reveal how you are relating to each other? Or is it just an accidental moment in time that means nothing?

I've had a couple of instances where I've seen photos that unnerved me. One was taken by my cousin's husband a few years ago, and it shows me sitting down, thinking about something. I didn't see him take the photo and when I saw it later, I felt so strange . . . I hadn't expected anyone to capture something so personal. It hadn't occurred to me that he was watching.

So, I can understand the desire to look at a camera with a totally blank expression. That way, no one is going to get anything from you that you wouldn't want to reveal. It's funny, though, to think of a generation of people not wanting to smile--and being so obsessed with photos at the same time.

Similar, though not identical post at Japundit, with comments.

I read the post at Japundit first, but I like this one better. It seems to have a more natural flow.

(Plus the Laura Ingalls Wilder photo is missing from the Japundit post, which is kind of confusing)
Ha! Well, I decided a while ago never to put a picture of myself on Japundit, so I sort of had to improvise. And, yes, the original is probably better because it is more personal.
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