Nostalgia and the photo.

A snap of me on vacation in Las Vegas. 040112

"Nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound.  It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone" Don Draper (Jon Hamm) - Mad Men

In the Mad Men episode, "The Wheel", Don Draper has to make an advertising pitch for the new Kodak slide projector that introduced the carousel. How can he make it the next big thing, like the iPad or digital camera?  In his pitch, he connects the power of having easy access to our memories, our history, and the connection to family, and love via seeing the slides of those moments to this technology Kodak needs to promote.


Mad Men ´The Carousel´ from Emilio on Vimeo.

This scene is my favorite from a show I've grown to love.   Maybe it is the sentimentality of Don looking at his family that he is losing, the feeling in his eyes as he sees his wife and kids share those private moments that make them a family.  I appreciate how many of the photos are technically flawed with bad flash, motion, and other common imperfections that make them more of a family's memories and not a professional quality shoot that would be out of context for what they are.  In this way, he is connecting how these photos have meaning to him and it doesn't matter how others view them.  He gets the point of the carousel and personal photography.  It is for the photographer and those closely involved.

I dread it when an acquaintance says, "Hey Karl.  You are a photographer.  My (insert his/her loved one that I hardly know and have no connections with) and I went to (some location distant or close).  We got some great photos from it you have to see."  He or she then whips out an iPad, iPhone, or laptop (at least it is no longer a slide projector or photo album) and shows them to me.  They never really give me a story more than, "This is us by the (insert attraction name).  And this is us eating a big taco at..."  They usually have a few good sunset shots and one or two good action or scenic photos as well.  Sadly, they don't realize I rarely get anything out of their photos.  I doubt most of the people they show their travel photos to find any meaning out them or really care.  The people those photos hold some meaning to are the people who lived in the moment they were taken.  They all share that nostalgic bond that makes them feel the beauty of the moment captured.  While I am being a condescending prig of a photographer thinking these things, I have a reason.  It isn't that my travel pics with family and friends are any better.  It is because of my intent when I took them.

When we take the vacation, holiday, life-event, and informal snapshots, we have a special intent.  We want a reminder, a connection to that special moment.  We want to relive the smell of the air, the sound of the waves and wind, and the feeling we felt with those living the moment with us.  We want to hear our children playing on the swings.  We want to feel the moment of the wedding, the party, or whatever the moment captured.  Our intent is for us and those who shared either the moment or a have a connection to the others in the photo or the place visited to relive it again.  Our subconscious intent is that these are for us.  If these photos are so personal, why do we feel we must share them with others?

I believe one reason we inflict our family photos on others (especially those not closely related to either the people in them nor the location) is the powerful feelings we have about the images.  Our close and warm feelings makes us forget why the photos have meaning to us.  We forget they are about us, for us.   This feeling of closeness makes us forget that others wont have the same connection to the images.  We forget that the intent for making them was for us, not them.

The photos I take for artistic/commercial purposes are different though due to the intent behind them.  I took them with the intent of others seeing them.  I want people to feel something by seeing them.  They may see different things, (beauty, sadness, happiness, arousal, quiet moments, ugly things, etc.), but the photo was created to go beyond being just for me.  Not all of my art photos will mean something for everyone, but the intent is there to have a meaning beyond me.

My artistic photos rarely have nostalgic meaning to me.  They may have personal emotions behind them, but I am rarely capturing them for nostalgic reasons.  The only sentimental value is if the model and I had a good time and enjoyed creating together or the location was special to me.  What I feel for my art can be all of the attributes I listed above that the viewer may feel, but nostalgic pangs for that moment are rarely felt.

I am not a total jerk about seeing others' trip photos.  If the person shares why the moment was important to them and what they felt at the moment, it helps me understand why the moment is important and I feel more of a connection to them, but maybe not the image.

I greatly appreciate this scene from Mad Men.  It tells one reason photos have so much meaning to us.  Photos give us that "twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone."  Please don't think poorly of me if the photos that gives you this "twinge" do nothing to my heart.  It wasn't your intent for it to do so.  You took it so you could feel that special twinge again.

No comments:

Post a Comment

So,what are you thinking about?