I fell hard for photography as a Liberal Arts major. I flirted with just about every discipline at the Humanities mixer—Foreign language (Italian specifically, language of food!), History, Sociology—and some would prove themselves lasting partners (English/writing and Theatre) while others would recede in the rear view mirror (Intro to Psychology, Linguistics, oof!). But photography, a cohort of the Art History and Fine Arts concentrations, had me smitten, literally, at first glance. I would not only return to photography in the course of my academic career, seemingly always finding a way to work it into a project, an article, an entire dissertation chapter that ended up on the cutting room floor when it came time to revise it into a book, but I would also get behind the camera to turn my love for lens gazing into a serious hobby.
Photography emerged in the nineteenth century out of a desire to create highly accurate depictions of objects, nature, and people that would surpass the images rendered by an artist’s fallible hand. Photography became synonymous with objectivity. In the early twentieth century, Progressives such as Jacob Riis and Lewis Hines used their cameras to capture the depolorable and dangerous conditions of the impoverished and child laborers in an effort to turn photographic evidence into social action. Photographs spoke the truth, but those truths were communicated as stories, and that is what compelled me years ago and continues to call me to look, gaze, watch, snap, and tell.
Multiple stories lay coiled inside a photograph like the meaty skeins of a springtime Fiddlehead. There is, most certainly, the who, what, when, where of the scene or moment: the bride tossing her bouquet, the child running through the sprinkler, the sun hitting the Golden Gate bridge. But there is also the story of the photographer, perhaps the trajectory of her life that leads her to take the shot, perhaps the mundane story of the day when she finds herself reaching for her camera at that instant. The universal story told by the photographic elements resonates loudly with viewers. The bridge is a metaphor for overcoming difficulty; the bride is a symbol of love and faith. At times, the photograph is a narrative wedge in the lives of an entire culture, a visual map that invites the “I was here when…” or “That was the day we…” type of unspooling tale passed from fellow to fellow with familiarity. And then of course there are the new stories generated from photographs rediscovered and re-appropriated by artists, creatives, activists, or politicians. In our sci-fi reality with mobile devices that allow us to snap, capture, and share in the span of several minutes, photography has become more than an art form, it is a powerful conduit of connection, community-building, and way to make sure our stories are heard, seen, and felt.
We recently launched a new HerSelf First tool, a photo feature called Pic-Me-Up where we showcase photos from individuals meant to inspire good energy, positivity, a laugh, or a smile. They also tell stories. Photography becomes a way for the caregiver to testify, “I am HERE NOW,” which is a place that she does not always get to occupy. It is a way for her to tell her own, deeply personal story about herself, her life, about this moment in time that warrants attention, which is stamped with importance for reasons only known to her. Photography becomes a way for the caregiver to continue speaking when words are no longer enough.