Monday, December 12, 2011

Image is Everything

I bought a Groupon for a photo book and had the daunting task of whittling down thousands of photos of Claire to fit on 20 pages. When eyestrain and carpal tunnel began settling in, I found myself wondering, “Did we really need to take twenty shots of her sleeping on August 24th?” The answer is, of course, yes, although it was clear that most of these duplicates weren’t going to make the final cut.

Putting digital repetition aside, difficult decisions still remained. Of course, we needed to include one of her first bath, and “Wow, do her eyes look blue in this one” preceded inclusion of way too many shots. What to do about the five really cute ones of her eating solid food for the first time? Each was a slight permutation of the other, each distinct and equally valuable. How to choose between them? I didn’t know. What I did know was that Andy Warhol truly was a prophet.

I managed to hone down the number to a streamlined 91 photos with many good ones ending up on the cutting room floor. Claire is the subject of all shots and about half are exclusively of her. I did a rough calculation and realized that George and I had taken approximately seven photos a day of Claire in the short six months since she has blessed us with her presence. That’s a lot, and I started to worry that we were aggrandizing our daughter. We live in a consumer culture desperate to turn my daughter into a false idol. I don’t want to add to the zeitgeist. Anyone remember Warren Beatty’s lacerating comment to Madonna in the “Truth or Dare” documentary? Something to the effect of “If the cameras weren’t on, you wouldn’t exist.” And that line was way before Youtube. Plus, if the focus is on preserving the moment, are we really in it? I want Claire to live her life not pose for it as if every event were a photo op.

Although hard to imagine, there was a time before cameras. For millennia, people probably had no memory of what they looked like as a baby or small child. That would surely change one’s self-concept, and I doubt in a good way.
There were portraits before cameras, but most are creepy – insipid, rosy cheeked Gainsboroughs or morose, oddly proportioned colonial babies. I don’t know which is worse. Yes, we’ve come a long way since Las Meninas, baby. And there’s surely no going back.
When I looked at the finished product, all of my concerns melted away anyway. The book is beautiful; my daughter is beautiful. We have a beautiful family. That’s what a parent is supposed to think, so media culture be damned. Most of all, the photos show Claire to be content and curious. They show a girl who is loved. I’m fine with repeating that over and over again.

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