Bad photos good

May 9, 2005

Listening to Mary Hodder and Peter Fenton made me realize that Flickr has made me value and even prioritize “bad” photos. Like my favorite photo of myself lately is this one — which by the standards of print photography is a horrible photo in every way. It’s low-res, shot without flash, dominated by two streetlights and a weird black streak across the middle. But it captures the texture of the moment so well, and oddly enough I think it really shows what I look like.

If photos are now purely digital, and mostly web-mediated, experiences… then forget about printing them out. In the new hotness, it’s all about the auratic power of experiential reality. So photos become interesting to the degree that they seem unposed, unself-conscious, imperfect — totally UNsuitable for framing.

I find that when I look at photos online these days, I’m unmoved by cleverness in composition or subject. I’m interested in expressions that rarely used to be captured by even “candid” photographs, because they were too far from the primary-color emotions to easily parse. I enjoy photos where the person doesn’t quite make eye contact with the camera, perhaps because it’s less clear where the aperture is or even what the camera looks like. I like a hint of exasperation, of not being sure whether the subject is up for a photo op or not.

All of this has made me decide not to smile in photos so much. Someone told me that I look exactly the same in every photo ever taken, and I think it’s because my smile is exactly the same wattage every time. Who wants to see another damn picture of Troutgirl and her teeth? Not me!

3 Responses to “Bad photos good”

  1. SunsetMan Says:

    I have inherited boxes of old photos. Most of which are unlabeled. Some of the people I recognize but have no idea when they were taken. I want to leave something better for my son and granddaughter. I may scan these old pictures and save them digitally. I have gigabytes of digital photos with no labels but I have dates. While Flickr allows labels I wish to keep my digital photos on my own hard drive or CD/DVD. Storage is cheap. I want to keep all of my photos both good and bad. What I need is software to catalog and label and maybe a short story about my photos. I have seen photo albums using html but this is not quite what I want. Maybe what I want is a database keyed to the jpegs. I think I’ll google it and see what I find.

    I agree, most pictures taken for home use will never be printed just viewed on screen.

    My granddaughter always has a fake smile when she poses for a picture and I hate it. Now I take my pictures of her when she is not expecting it. These are the best as they look like her.

  2. Anita Says:

    This post makes me think about the shift in pop-culture “reality” beauty also. A few years ago Bobbi Brown, published a book on accentuating “the real you” (ie. learning that the glitches are the beauty]. Then, about the same time, TV did it with “Reality TV”. The highlight of those shows is how “human” the subjects are, no? [ie how much they mess up, their reactions, etc.]

    Seems to me the invention of the camPhone is bringing about “reality photography”. I mean the thing people are starting to accept and embrace is the spontaneous capture of the senescence of the moment. The moment is not fixed, its moving. It’s imperfect. But somehow quickly capturing that best gives a value different from traditional photography. I think it’s an interesting shift in sociological shift.


  3. mary hodder Says:

    Thanks Joyce. So, I really like that photo of you a lot because it says so much about you, for a particular moment, that you were smiling big and looked happy, with all those high contrast darks and lights, moving down the street. It’s all action and moment. All your photos together, over time make a collage about you, and it’s constantly moving, morphing. It’s a snapshot that says you were there. I think you should keep smiling in some of your photos because we are part of your experience, your voyeurs, and we like it.

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