Photos have lost their meaning


Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the Grand Rapids Art Museum. For those who have never been, I highly recommend going and walking through slowly, room by room, piece by piece.

Not because going slowly will be inherently more fun, but because going slowly allows you to process what you’re looking at. The information gleaned from patiently viewing and understanding may lead to a new perspective or idea.

In my case, the art gave me a new perspective. While working my way through the second floor past the purple and white blown glass flowers and past the fingerprint mirror, I entered a room lined with early 20th century brown photographs.

Although I found a few photos of canyons especially beautiful, only one gave me a different view.

This canyon photo contained a man sitting on a ledge in the foreground reading a book, while the curves of the canyon disappeared off the print. Above this scene the misty clouds hovered, letting streaks of light glisten through.

I thought to myself, while gazing on the scene, that this moment was not born of camera diarrhea — the phenomenon where an obscene number of photos are taken in a very short period of time — but of either extreme patience or very lucky timing.

In addition, the photo would have value, not the shallow value we give to a decent picture on Instagram or Facebook, but an inherent value simply because it was a photograph.

Such value could only be given when images were not cheap and convenient, but when the product of the moment could only be seen after the film was developed, long after the moment had passed.

This worth was also found in the cost of the film, the luck in the shot, the patience for the moment and the limited number of pictures.

We, as a society, do not have this value in photos. Our photos are cheap, convenient and often meaningless.

Each photo requires little effort and there is no cost in taking another. Because of the sheer number of nonchalant free pics snapped, thrown onto the internet and then, just as quickly, forgotten about, our photos have lost their value.

The sum of the photos may tell a story, but as for the individual photos, they have become nothing. A picture is no longer worth a thousand words. Not simply because there are lots and lots of pictures, but because the effort, risk and cost no longer apply.

Where there was once a large amount of thought that only a limited number of people could see, now there is the opposite.

Even though our easy-access culture has degraded the value of photos, this is not necessarily the logical conclusion of photographs on the internet.

We are still capable of bringing meaning into photos, but the process must be done with purpose and thought.

Each picture we upload ought to be there for a reason, even if its purpose is to complement the whole. If each photo is made into art, then all photos carry more meaning and as a result every photo becomes more interesting.

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Jared DeYoung

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