1000 Words On a Photo
It isn’t a particularly good photo. It didn’t come at a moment that’s turned out to be incredibly defining, or altering, or transformative. But it’s still one of my favorites.
We were in France, I think Paris, on the end of a two-week trip through Ithaca College that 20 communications students got to go on. It was right after the end of my freshman year, but the trip wasn’t for credit and certainly wasn’t completely educational. There was lots of drinking, hanging out and being lost without anyone who spoke French. But we were in France so there was a general mood that we had to do something with our time. There were only five or six guys on the trip and most of us went exploring together on this particular morning (mostly because we were tired of some of the whining from a few select girls).
So there we were, the quintessential American tourists with backpacks and an undeserved sense of accomplishment, basically lost, immersing ourselves in some less-travelled parts of the city, when we came across this fountain ball thing. At first it elicited some jokes (we were, of course, five college students) but then it subsided to silence.
We all looked around, off in our own worlds. One of us had just graduated, the rest of us were still going to be in school for at least another year or two. There was little similar about us, although I’d continue to be friends with a few of them after the trip was over. This photo captures what turned out to be our one common moment, but in our minds we were no closer then than we physically are now.
There’s something beautiful about how the photo lined up. Five different stances, five different head tilts, looking in five different directions. There are the little details - me wearing a five Euro watch that died the second I got off the plane in America, the other photo being taken on the left of something completely different, and even the head-scratching on the right because we didn’t really know where we were.
But most importantly, as I said at the beginning, the photo just isn’t very good. Our faces aren’t very clear in the reflection and we obviously weren’t posing (although my stoic look to the right says otherwise). The beauty of this photo isn’t in its clear beauty, but in everything behind it that can’t be seen. It’s a really cheesy, but really easy foil for people, for life and for basic humanity.
I’ve been thinking about the beauty behind beauty a lot lately. Being in a new situation has forced me to focus more on the little moments, as well as enabled me to take notice of things I might not have previously. Those little moments prompted me to flip through my Facebook photo library, which is where I rediscovered this bad (good) photo.
Yesterday I got into a conversation about our public photos. I’ve always been fairly open with mine; I’m confident that a photo of me having a good time isn’t going to cost me a job, and if it does the job probably wasn’t right for me anyway. But this conversation was more about PDA in photos. I’ve had two very lengthy relationships and both were fairly well documented on Facebook (which is where you’re headed to stalk me… now). So of course there are photos of me online kissing my exes or holding their hand, usually with captions that probably made my friends want to vomit. It’s a record of where I’ve been and it helps define who I am. Or at least that’s how I see them.
But what happens when those public photos become crutches or they’re looked at too often? It’s certainly a psychological issue that is relatively new. I’m at peace with where I’ve been and what I’ve done, but if those photos make someone else uncomfortable should I forsake my records in favor of looking ahead? It’s far more complicated than I think Mark Zuckerberg intended it to be those nights in Boston he spent developing what would soon become a literal book of faces for the world. And it’s far more complicated than I can solve here.
The internet can do amazing things, but it can do haunting things as well. Unfollowing on Twitter or unfriending on Facebook has become a new game of social chess. We’ve seen stories of much worse things happening from these sites as well, so I’m thankful that problems with technology that bother me are pretty trivial compared to most. But it does make you think – with all this data out there, when is it good to just stop?
There was a recent movement by some to scale back on social networking. Facebook use even plateaued for a month or two over the summer. I doubt it will stay that way, but it was certainly interesting to see. I, of course, am a huge proponent of social media, but I also cringe at the fact that I have an entire monitor streaming Twitter and constantly have Facebook open in a tab. It certainly isn’t how these sites were expected to evolve, was it?
All of this may seem fairly unconnected, but it’s not. We take photos to remember, and they used to sit in albums in our homes. Now they’re out there, for better or worse. I am a classic oversharer on social media, but I’m definitely beginning to think about what that means a lot more.
However, I can guarantee you that none of this was in my mind back in Paris. I could’ve been thinking about how I accidentally ordered a biggie size meal at McDonald’s because of the language barrier, or about what cheap wine I was going to drink that night. And that’s when I cocked my head to the right as the moment was frozen in time.
Some pictures say exactly 1000 words. This is one.