The pro’s and con’s of “seeing is believing”
According to the collective knowledge of Wikipedia, the idiom “seeing is believing” was first recorded in 1639, which means it had likely been in use for some time prior to that date. The simple explanation of this expression is that things you can see are “truer” or more “real” than those you cannot.
But when it comes to photographs we should be very, very careful about what, or even more importantly why, we see something as true or real.
(Above: Jeff Gardner – Selfie. Copyright © Jeff Gardner, 2016)
“I discourage the use of the selfie for one’s portrait and encourage the use of a good photographer instead.”
Photographs represent and reflect what we want to see as much, if not more, than what is real – and this is not always a bad thing. For example, in the case of a good portrait, a photograph can become a self-representation of the person that we hope to be instead of the person that holds us back, the person we don’t want to be or see. Like looking in the mirror and giving ourselves a little affirmation, a strong portrait can focus us on the greater potential of the “who” we could be while helping us move past the struggle with the “who” we have been.
There are pro’s and con’s to this phenomenon, both of which can be found in the ongoing selfie craze. Our normalizing (meaning most do it most of the time) of selfies is a behavior which, in my opinion, suggests that we are living in an age of terrible insecurity with little understanding of what to do about it. It is not that taking pictures of oneself is a bad thing, but when we expect the picture, that is the “physical” thing (digital, really) to do for us what we won’t or can’t do for ourselves, that is where we get into trouble. Because viewers give a selfie lots of “Likes” does not make us more likeable. In fact the just the opposite may occur, with the feeling of the one getting in the way of the hard work of the other.
I discourage the use of the selfie for one’s portrait and encourage the use of a good photographer instead. Why? Well, to be honest, picking up and pointing a camera does not make someone a photographer anymore than picking up and using a pencil makes someone a writer. This is not some kind of pho-tog snobbery, but rather the truth that good photography is a craft and takes lots of work. We do not see our best and worst sides (yes, those actually exist) like someone whose craft it is to know which is which. Assuming that because we see ourselves most (or so we think) we know ourselves best is symptomatic of “narcissus neurosis,” a mild and near universal condition in which we fall in love with the image of ourself rather than the total self.
Although I spend some part of nearly every day doing something with photographs, studying them, writing about them, making them or working with them, I rarely ever take pictures of myself. Perhaps I have my nose pressed too close to the frame and I think too much about what an image means (or not) to not over analyze my own self. Yeah, I am an image-wonk, someone who thinks doing a PhD in Communication with an emphasis on photographic-hermeneutics (true story) is a good idea.
Lately, I have been constructing a new website and needed a self-portrait for it. Breaking my own rule, at least for now, I took the above picture to be used as a placeholder until I can get someone else to do a proper job.
What do I see when I look at this image? Sorry, I am not going to answer that question here. Just as seeing should not always be believing, photography is as much about what is known as it is about what is unknown.