Drooling on the Pillow

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Watching the Birdie 

I told a story a few months ago that involved looking at thousands and thousands of photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Based upon my dim memories of that limited sample, I'm making the claim that the type of snapshot over on the right was relatively rare back then. The type where the smiling object stands in the middle and lets the picture say 'This is where I was' and 'This is what I was doing'.

I remember the shots in my greatgrandmother's albums as being mostly tableaux, groups of people staging themselves as if in the midst of doing what they were actually doing. Sailing, partying, playing croquet, visiting grandma. It was a curious thing since they were doing what the camera was made to do -- freeze the moment in time -- so that what was most dynamic in the frame became the background, where you could see dust being kicked up or the blur of someone moving on the sidewalk almost out of the frame.

At the same time it was more social as the individuals maintained their relationship with each other rather than, as a group, only having the relationship with the camera. It also evokes the moments before the shot as they composed themselves and the moment after when they dissolve in laughter and Uncle Charlie wants a do over because he closed his eyes.

I imagine there must be sociological reasons for this shift, but it probably has more than anything to do with advances in shutter speed and camera technology.
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