Monday, November 16, 2009

The wind will change and you'll stay like that

The combination of cheap digital cameras and Facebook has been responsible for a world-wide over-supply of party pictures. They're all over the internet, particularly on the social networking sites: tight groups of young people bunching together to get into frame, the telescopic arm of the person on far right indicating that there is no actual photographer, heads jammed up against each other, mouths arranged into either a parody of glee or a self-mocking pout. I note that this last has become such a staple that somebody has dedicated a website called Stop Making That Duckface to its extinction.

The pose is interesting. The few pictures I've got from the days of box Brownies and Instamatics suggest that having one's photograph taken was a moment fraught with tension. Nowadays it's gone so far the other way that few photographs are taken with even a second's thought. The whole process is a send-up. Nobody takes a simple straight-up picture in which the subjects aren't gurning and you can decipher the context in which it's taken. When this generation of twentysomethings, who must be the most photographed in the history of mankind, look back in middle age I fear they'll see what appears to be one big image, featuring nobody in particular, having fun nowhere in particular, making that funny face at nobody in particular.


  1. I remember my mother commenting when seeing my youngest daughter's holiday photos that they consisted of a long series of groups of young people "pulling silly faces", with no background or anything to give a clue where the holiday actually took place.

  2. I assume they'll see what every middleaged person sees when they look at phones of themselves as youths, "gosh - how young we all were!"

    What I think will be sad is how few of these photos will survive - digital stuff has a habit of just disappearing.

  3. The ubiquity of portable image-recording means that we seem to spend more time recording then we do actually ‘seeing’ what’s before us, much less actually considering it. Two memories: 1) Approaching the Statue of Liberty on a boat a few years ago I was startled by a sudden, almost Pavlovian, mass-clicking of cameras. If I'd asked anyone afterwards what they thought of the Statue itself, I doubt they would have been able to tell me. They were more concerned with recording it and then, presumably, ticking it off their list. Is this type of photo simply to prove to friends back home that one was actually there? (Personally, I was struck by how small it was, deceived perhaps by all those swooping helicopter tracking shots on TV that make it look immense). 2) At a Disney theme park, a gentleman is walking around a reptile exhibit with a movie camera stuck to his eye. He moves from one glass-fronted enclosure to the next and not once does he remove it, or pause to consider what it is he is filming. The intention, one presumes, is to watch it back when he gets home, but I doubt this will happen more than once, and even then he won’t be able to explain what he’s watching.

  4. Totally with Huw on this one. Both of MrsB's sisters have a whole series of holiday snaps that only give a brief glimpse of where they have been around the edges of the frame.

    Perhaps I go too far the other way, but then I don't need to be in my pictures of a stunning view or interesting building to be reminded that I was actually there in person.

    (Word verification - Ungench. Perhaps Gench could be adopted as another term for this duckfaced pose and we can all be ungenchers from now on).

  5. I certainly agree with Huw's comment: looking at ninety-nine percent of the pictures on Facebook (even some of the ones I am actually in), I wouldn't be able to tell you where or when they were taken.

    Being an ex-student of photography, I used to take a camera everywhere I went. Over the last few years I've stopped bothering, mainly because every time I go out, there are so many cameras present that it feels like I'm involved in a press conference.

    At one point last year, I went out for an evening to a club, and there were already photos of me on Facebook from that same night, by the time I got home.

    I think because it's now so easy and cheap to take a picture, photographers don't need to take their time over framing or composition—they just fire off thirty shots of the same thing and hope that one of them is OK.

  6. Anonymous3:36 pm

    Interesting to note the correlation between teenage party pictures and GHD-straightened hair. It seems to be a certain "type" of teen female that does this.

    SMFifteen - reminds me of a very prescient Sean Hughes gag from the early nineties - "Did you have a good holiday?" "I don't know, I haven't watched the video yet".

  7. See also: the latest entry in the 'People Who Deserve It' blog ("it" being a punch in the face) - the picture Nazi:

    I saw Ash at a 250-capacity venue on Sunday. I am not a tall man, and saw most of the gig on the back of the camera in front of the guy in front of me's camera.

  8. not sure about the gurning but spare us from tasteful shots of places of interest I'd much rather see pictures of people. Sure the duck face thing is problem but loads of "Amateur Photographer" snaps odf the Acroplis please. With my younger relatives, school groups etc I take two pictures, one normal and one with "faces" and then delete the gurning one!

  9. Paul K9:55 am

    Ah, the "Statue of Liberty" syndrome. I find this most remarkable in the great art galleries, where hundreds a day snap the Mona Lisa, or the Birth of Venus, or whatever. Why on earth do they think their photo will come even remotely close to the quality of the painting itself. And - if they really admire that statue/painting etc, why don't they buy a proper reproduction???

    Presumably, the photo is actually just saying "I was there". Sad.

  10. This camera was being advertised on my yahoo homepage, mobiles have 2 cameras for a while for self portraits this is first standalone camera I've seen with a "duckface" feature!

  11. It's the same at concerts these days too, I'm always surrounded by people holding up phone and digital cameras - and often video cameras - capturing the event without, it seems to me, actually just enjoying it. Those little glowing screens have become the 21st century equivalent of the cigarette lighter.

  12. When this generation look back in middle age they probably won't be able to see any of their old photos because they'll be stored on computer hard drives and mobiles that have long expired and been consigned to the bin. I still use a Rolleiflex, with film, and I get some interesting reactions from twentysomethings who are baffled by the slowness of the process and the lack of a viewfinder screen. But they do like the image quality, and many lament that they don't get any hard copies of the pictures they take.