I was going through some old personal photographs over the weekend. There were lots of pictures of people smiling for the camera but amongst the school portraits and posed group shots were a couple of candid snapshots that caught my eye.
There was a photograph of my dad with my youngest brother – a candid moment, either right before or right after the “posed” moment that captured their spirits. There was a cockeyed shot of my other brother asleep in a barber chair.
And then there was a shot of me with my sister and cousin that left you wondering. It was a picture of my sister and cousin, sitting in a wagon that had been abandoned on a sidewalk in a newly built “neighborhood”, taken in the early 1950’s. And there I was, younger and smaller than my sibling, but standing defiantly on my own, refusing to pull the wagon any further.
When I was growing up taking pictures wasn’t like it is these days in the digital era. The cameras then were totally manual and you were quite lucky if your pictures “came out”. You didn’t really know what your results would be until weeks, months or even years later, after you finished the roll of film that was in your camera and had dropped it off at the drug store to be sent off to Kodak to get developed. Depending on how frugal you had been with snapping pictures on that roll of film, looking through your prints after they came back from Kodak was sometimes like seeing the whole year in images with each holiday neatly documented. So with the odds against you for capturing good pictures, you tended to be very cautious and shoot only the sure-fire posed situations. Those shots were hard enough to get, let alone trying to get candid moments. One of my favorite songwriter/musicians, Jackson Browne writes about the candid moments caught in an image:
Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true
These days of course taking photos is almost seemless because of automatic features on digital cameras giving us instant gratification in seeing our results immediately. Everyone is taking pictures and in a much more spontaneous way – taking more chances because what’s the harm if something doesn’t come out right – you just erase it and try again. It’s quite interesting because we are all documenting our times and our culture for future generations to see beyond the smiling face.
I love to shoot the candid moments and I’ve spent a career documenting our times and our world through the lens of my camera. I’m an observer and a visual communicator but I’m also a historian, knowing that my images will be a legacy of my time in history. It’s a powerful thought to know that someday someone may look at a photograph that I shot and wonder. Or at least I hope my images will make one wonder, beyond the smile of the faces captured.