“Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality, understood as recalcitrant, inaccessible; of making it stand still. Or they enlarge a reality that is felt to be shrunk, hollowed out, perishable, remote. One can’t possess reality, one can possess (and be possessed by) images—”
Most of my first, old photos—taken between 2006 and 2010—sit on an external hard drive, irretrievable because of some system error preventing the computer to boot and open the images. It’s just as well. There are photos of my childhood home, abandoned and dilapidated until the new owner arrived; There are photos of my nieces as babies; There are photos of my mother and I, back when we were cool. I remember the photo. I wore a Jets jersey and she wore a cream-colored top or blouse. Our smiles were strained; my sister must’ve been behind the lens. It’s just as well.Taking photos for Instagram’s sake is limited, but entertaining. Photos have separate life cycles partitioned to distinguish the private and the public; some photos deserve to be shared online because you don’t want them for yourself; other photos, you covet tight to the chest. My partner as a little girl in four-wheel roller skates looking like the beautiful future. This, I will never share. It’s a Polaroid worth holding, but this digital reflection is just as good. Perhaps better. I can stare into the glass for fifty years and burn the file into my brain, where it belongs. Disease and deletion could never make me forget you.
Instagram’s passivity is its charm, the ease with which one administers the scroll—square photo after square photo—punctuated by a thumb’s rest upon the tiny heart. But something about my mind relative to the platform hungers for more substance of some kind. Not words. I guess I want to experience the image as the capturer lived it before the aperture closed. Photography engenders my desire for telepathy, it appears. Still, Instagram’s original iteration, as presented to the public, was perfect: a simple repository of photos with filters for novelty’s sake. You’d share a photo, and your family and friends would come and see and like and comment, or not.
This is fundamentally the same and yet the Instagram experience is increasingly guided by an aesthetic skewed toward the video. Now, the two separate mediums, still and moving, coexist and are consumed within one grid. I often recall the photo being taken—when and where and who—but not the photo itself. My father enjoyed a brief stint as the family videographer. Recording me while I played a trumpet solo in a sixth grade band concert. Pudgy and suspicious of any camera, I played on as he recorded the video, then switched to a 35mm for stills I haven’t seen in two decades. Had he posted them on Instagram assuming Instagram existed back then, I would’ve blocked him, but at least I’d have the pictures now. Without photos, I no longer remember what I looked like as a kid.