Time flows past us fleetingly. And as it does, a moment may be simply an instant – a smile, a look, a sports moment, a wave crashing on rocks. Or the moment may linger, such as a sunset, fall colors, or blooms in the garden. But once the moment is gone, it is gone forever except in our memories.
Ancient people captured these moments on the walls of their caves, great artists of the past have sought to capture many moods of a family or scene in a single image. Today, we take snapshots.
When we take a snapshot, we are seeking to capture a moment in time. It is an emotion, a feeling, a glance, an action, an interaction, an expression, some lighting.
Taking a snapshot is more than just hitting the pause button of life. We consciously choose something to be the moment that we want to capture. We stop what we are doing to take it. We bring people together to create that moment. We are driven by an emotion or a desire to preserve that moment.
With our snapshots, we try to capture and freeze life in a way that the moving image cannot. We watch movies, but we study prints.
The coming of digital…
Snapshots taken with a film camera have a legacy in the past, from a time when pictures were expensive. With a film camera, we take one or two snapshots, and hope we capture the moment as we experienced it. Even with digital, there is the notion of taking a single snapshot to capture the moment. Yet with digital, taking pictures costs nothing and we can readily take many.
When people shoot with a digital camera, it is easy to take many pictures and simply choose the one that best captures and reflects the moment that inspired us to take the snapshot. So with digital the skill in capturing a moment can take on a new dimension.
When taking a single shot, all of the skill is around framing, timing, positioning, and ensuring that the elements or people are all in place.
With digital, these the same skills apply, but we have the additional opportunity to review many images around the same moment, and then use our recognition and selection skills to choose the single image that stands out as the best, much like a fashion photographer does.
Why prints are important…
Why do we print these pictures? A print is a tangible object. We can hold it. We can pass it to someone else. We can look at it anywhere anytime. It needs no additional equipment to view or share. Prints can touch our hearts and lift our souls.
What we do with our prints reflects how we feel about them. We preserve them in albums and decorate them in scrapbooks. We honor them with enlargements, and enshrine them with frames. We use them as messengers – writing on them and sending them to friends and family. We take them to show at a social lunch, and we carry images of dear ones with us like a talisman.
The Getty Museum celebrated the American snapshot between 1930 and 1960 with an exhibition in late 2004, entitled “Close to Home”. This was made up of simple photographs from the period, taken by ordinary people, with their snapshot cameras. It showed hundreds of little windows into a moment from the past. The pictures were not award winning, yet the exhibition drew more people than a Cezanne exhibition. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds were fascinated with this glimpse of the past.
Prints allow us to study and reflect on an instant from the past in a way that no virtual image or moving picture can. We hold them in our hands and hang them on the walls. They are treasured souvenirs’ from the past, and the wall paintings on our caves.