The ether is all around us. Ubiquity and ease of use make us humans oh-so-prone to overindulgence and abuse. Who among us is free from the sin of too many selfies and oversharing? My heart may be partially made of glass but my head sometimes encourages the throwing of stones. Or posting a "me" pic. Or arguing with strangers when I am not looking at pictures of cats. Those of us who are fortunate to possess smartphones are frequently too easily shepherded by our digital masters to put too much out there, and lead us to believe that we have not posted enough.
It is a vicious circle shaped like a yoke, one that I am hoping to throw off in pursuit of inner peace. In pictures as with words it is my desire to improve my self-editing. The end result of such an exercise is to present to the world only that which fulfills more than simple affirmation of my presence. I have long felt that the "me" that is me is no more or no less than the "me" that is others. That is, just as boring and interesting as anyone when taken on the basis of their existence. So the energy invested in putting something before the world, to my mind, should be channeled into presenting things that are noteworthy for reasons extending far beyond the simple action of presentation.
Fireworks go BOOM! but most people want light, color and artistry above mere noise.
Photographs operate in a similar fashion. I think this a major reason why most selfies are ultimately boring and unsatisfying, at least to my eyes. A series of "This is me in location A, B, C,..." too quickly becomes an exercise in the same (or almost exactly the same) subject in anonymous locations with slightly different lighting or time of day. Sort of Where's Waldo? pages stripped of the interesting surrounding and colorful context. A similar things starts to happen when one sees too many food-of-the-moment pictures. Instead of a picture that says "I AM A SANDWICH", I want a picture that tells me a story about why that sandwich is good. That means context, occasion, maybe even history. These things make images worth sharing and by no means an exhaustive list.
Let me make it clear that I am not declaring myself an anti-selfie or anti-food pic zealot. I understand and have indulged in the need to share something of the moment, when enthusiasm and energy compel someone to share what they have. Even if technology is the real enabler, it can still be fun to be carried away by the spirit. It is my hope that this spirit will be informed by thoughtfulness and consideration for what will be shared, why it will be shared, and its effects upon with whom it is shared. This can produce conflict between sharing merit and seeking attention.
I was reminded of this recently during an editing and maintenance session on my workstation. I was editing some images and searching my photo library for images to inspire and images to delete. Because I had largely managed to get the events of last summer into a safe mental storage space, I was not expecting to see the images I had taken of my infant granddaughter on the day of her sudden death in July. The air went out of my lungs in one deep whoosh. Tears sprang to my eyes as I clapped a hand over my mouth in shock.
It is a series of five images taken after a request was made of the emergency medical personnel. This was the last chance to get some permanent memory before she was taken by the coroner. My granddaughter lay still in her infant carrier, the stub of the emergency ventilation tube protruding from between her lips. If that tube was not there you would have a hard time believing she was dead and not asleep. The contrast between this industrial plastic and the organic beauty of her cherubic cheeks was heart-rending in its understated brutality. Little pink nubbins of her toes peeked out from under the blanket in which she was swaddled, tiny anemones perched on the seashells of her feet.
I took those pictures as a reporter. Simple chronicle of the facts of the day, one of the worst I and my family have experienced in this life. The poet in me wanted to share one with the world, to seek solace in communal acknowledgement of universal tragedy. The reporter wanted to share to announce the news of the day, letting the viewer decide for themselves what to make of it. The counselor in me urged restraint as knowing of such tragedy is hard enough; witnessing a slice of it, maybe too much. None of those three won a clear victory, but a slight edge went to the counselor.
I closed the folder and moved on to other things. The photographer me knew then that one of the most valuable traits to have when making pictures is that of honed discretion. Knowing what to share and when is vital to sharing the story one wants to tell. For now, the pictorial evidence of this one tragic morning of agonizing heartbreak shall remain in the vaults of my heart, a story not ready to be told.