From an early age we are all conditioned to “smile for the camera”. Just think about it for a moment, most of the time, when anyone points a camera to take a picture the photographer’s subject or victim will freeze with a silly grin on their face. We all do it and there is something deep within us that makes us behave like this. Why don’t we just photograph each other “doing stuff” getting on with our everyday lives and being, well just more normal?!
The whole posing thing or playing up for the camera has become, in many ways, a social phenomena – look at the current selfie culture for example – in many ways this is a sort of backlash against the whole smile and look nice for the camera thing as many of today’s teenagers send grotesque selfies to each other in an attempt to look the most gross and disturbing! In many ways I think this is quite healthy in that at least they are not obsessing about how perfect they look- it’s a sort of visual send up of themselves or a kind of ironic posed picture – portrait satire if you like!
Perhaps we also do it out of a slight fear and concern for the viewer of the image. Subconsciously there is always a concern about what the viewer will see, how they will experience you, what they might do with the picture – do you trust the photographer?
Terrifyingly most of us automatically smile. The false happiness and the reassurance to the viewer that we are having a good time, everything is fun – we also want to appear friendly when the viewer judges us – you’re not going to be there to defend yourself, all the viewer has to go on is your expression. Next time someone takes your photograph just try not smiling- it’s really hard, you have been well and truly brainwashed!
So where did all this static smiling and posing come from? It’s certainly weird that it’s considered normal and even more weird when you consider that modern cameras are more than capable of freezing movement, action and everyday events.
I think the answer is two-fold:
Firstly, early cameras were incredibly slow. The exposure time, or the amount of time that it took to take the photograph was often several seconds and during that time the subject had to remain absolutely still. Think of those stiff and starchy Victorian photographs – they looked stiff and static because they were – in fact in Victorian times they fitted you into a brace that looked like an instrument of torture to keep you still whilst the photograph was taken. The camera had to be static and mounted on a tripod. As camera technology has progressed we are now able to take an image in a fraction of a second but our psyche is still lagging behind.
Secondly it’s incredibly difficult to take a meaningful “action” photograph. So much so that it can seem a bit odd seeing yourself in a photograph in motion or maybe from a view other than straight on. But we now have the technology to do so – even most phone cameras are capable of freezing action and taking quick images and, in the proliferation of the digital age we are technically liberated from the static shackles of the past.
Yet, subconsciously we are still thinking like Victorians.
We are censoring our memories. Creating a false tableaux each time the shutter is pressed. Lying to our viewers.