You Oughta Be in Pictures

Hey, there. You know who you are. You’re the one smiling for your selfie, trying to catch your best side. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Taking your best shot has become almost as common as breathing. If Instagram is any indication, with nearly 300 million selfies posted, it seems people are hooked on the art of being frozen in time  — or at least in a photo frame.

In 1839, Robert Cornelius took what people consider to be the first selfie. To be truthful, though, since it was a daguerreotype, all bets are off. Today, we humans take almost a trillion photos a year and, of that number, it would be hard to guess how many are insta self-portraits. The fact that we’ve become a selfie ‘culture’ says as much about us as the world we live in. Selfies are also a pretty good indicator of how we define ourselves, especially in the eyes of others.

“For me the subject of the picture is more important than the picture.” Diana Arbus

Psychologists define ‘looking glass self’ as how we view ourselves more through the lens of others than who we really are. Considering the amount of thought we put into capturing our best angle or light, that kind of makes sense. But does the image we take in seconds really reap what we crave or increase our self-worth? I’m not so sure. I suspect a selfie story is as quicksilver as the mood it’s taken in.

“We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone”

Whether your selfie is shot in the front seat of a car (hopefully not when you’re driving) or in a restaurant with your peeps, you’ll relive the emotions of that moment each time you look at it. But more importantly, it’s who you are – or at least who you are that day, that moment, that counts. Selfies don’t usually showcase our really sad selves, our angry flipside or, especially for women, those no-makeup, wet hair shots. Nope, not happening. Still, less than flattering pictures of us do exist — or why would passport photos exist?

Motor Vehicle agencies’ idea of a selfie is a really low blow. Not only is lighting abysmal, but with no discernible focus point, everyone looks like a deer in the headlights – or worse. The worse, in fact, resides in my wallet. My license had to be renewed three weeks after my husband died so you can imagine the expression on my face – or lack of it. Yet, when I see it, in all its sad, strained glory, I see a moment in time that was real, that happened and had meaning, albeit that of grief, beyond a mere facial expression for the camera.

“The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people do”

Truth be told, I’m not fond of any picture of myself and I’m quite sure I’m not alone. We’re all way too hard on ourselves where looks are concerned and selfies are a freakin’ jackpot of every less-than-lovely aspect of our perceived selves. Photos mirror every microscopic detail of our face, but what they rarely capture is what’s behind it and that’s where reality lives. We don’t dissect selfies of our friends, or kids; we’re just damn happy to see them. Truth be told, our species is engineered to be drawn to faces – just not always thrilled with our own. Yet, we would be a lot less worried about how we appear if we remembered that only our inner ‘stuff’ matters, that our pixeled images are just visual records of our outer selves. The good stuff is the gooey center inside, a place where no photographic plastic surgery is required.

“Photography is about capturing souls not smiles”

My son has taken up the family paparazzi torch — and run with it. I have to admit I’m a wee bit jealous when I see how really fab his photos are but also just as thrilled. He approaches what he sees a little differently yet creates a masterpiece from the vision. That could be a little bit true of all of us. We each see the same things – but as differently as we reflect them back.

If I’ve learned anything (and I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to these last months) about life after loss, it’s that pictures tell a story. Through pictures, your pictures, my pictures — that story lives on. I’m forever grateful for the grab shots, the digital moments, both sweet and kooky, even the selfies my husband clowned around in. There were many that were funnier than they were flattering, but all are priceless proof that he was here. And for a widow who still misses that expressive face, they help relive memories that grief can never take away.

Photos are priceless footprints of a life. They assure us that we were there; we did that. Not seeing perennial constant eye rolls each time I whip out my camera these days, makes me think my kids either finally get it – or just gave up. Life goes on and so do photo opp pieces of it. So, snap away. Be creative. Try some of those fun filter apps. Get ready for your close up. Just remember no moment, no pose has to be perfect – to be perfect.

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