Photo Fascism

I have a guilty confession to make.  I am a photo fascist.

It has not been a pleasant or easy journey of self-realisation to arrive at this unsavoury conclusion but, having identified my condition, I am hoping that an honest admission may, in some small part, serve to lessen my crime, that, or I am hoping that I will discover I am not alone in my attempts at rewriting history.  Collective guilt can be a surprisingly pleasant balm.

Of course, I am well aware of plenty of global figures who, in their own particular time, have massaged the truth in order to produce a sanitised, well-oiled and generally more beautified past, to either fit in with their ideals, or to hide their crimes – Joseph Stalin; Tony Blair; Walt Disney; to name but a few – but mine is a far more personal past-editing, rather than any grand rewriting of the historic books and, as such, seems more grubby, backstreet and unethical.

The specifics of my crime need voicing if I am going to achieve any kind of salvation, painful though it may be.  Please believe me, this is no New-Age cathartic ‘sharing’ but a sinner’s open declaration.

“I destroy inferior quality holiday snaps in order to make it look as though I am having a more perfect trip.”  There, I’ve said it.  Deep breath.  And relax.

My photo-cleansing is systematic and follows strict criteria.  When it comes to people, blinking is a big no-no: people do not shut their eyes in Photo-Utopia.  Equally, red-eye receives the same dismissive treatment.  As does off-guarded frowning, gurning and all too obviously phoney smiling.  Landscapes are similarly dealt with: inclement weather is best forgotten; boring scenery and less than postcard-pretty views are better buried.  Ugly buildings are deleted; inharmonious compositions are surreptitiously discarded.  I operate a rigid policy of eugenics when it comes to the offspring of my fecund lens.

In my defence, I think the fault lies squarely with the rise of the digital camera.  We live in a responsibility-shift, pass-the-buck society and, if an alternative culprit can be reasonably found, I believe that it is a perfectly legitimate lawyer’s tactic to ‘shift the blame’.

400 mudskipper family tree

In the past, when the photographs one took were only visible sometimes months – or even years – after they were actually taken; the images appearing like semi-magical reminders of a distant – and largely forgotten – event, it called for a particularly hard heart and even firmer resolve, to physical throw away any member of the playing-card pack of 6×4 memories.  More often than not, the permanent record of old horrors and aesthetic calamities would be faithfully saved, even displayed with pride, catalogued, framed and exhibited for posterity in a padded album or on show atop a choice mantelpiece.  Before the advent of digital images, if you wanted to actually dispose of a particularly hideous photograph the best you could do with it would be to send it with a polite letter to a distant and sentimental relative.

Now, with digital technology, it is possible to press one idiot-proof button, and an offending memory can be deleted instantly.

The past is truly a different place.

I find, as I grow older, that photographs increasingly form a substitute for memory.  As a child, I used to pride myself on my capacity for recall; as an adult, I have become more reliant on artificial aids.  Past acquaintances are reduced to single snapshots at specific moments; long relationships are summed up by one defining image; holidays become a series of inter-related photographs.  Life is reduced to something that happens intangibly and unrecorded somewhere in between the clicking of the camera’s shutter.

When my photographic record was a ‘warts and all’ account, this approach had a degree of verisimilitude; now that I am a Past-editor, the old adage that ‘the camera never lies’ has never been less true.  I can, at least, take some consolation in the fact that I have not started further ‘improving’ on my images by using Photoshop.  I may be a photo-fascist, but I am not so deluded to think that any future historians are going to believe that I took my holidays in the company of Angelina Jolie, despite what a simple a task it would be to graft her into the corner of every snap.

400 mudskipper family tree on holiday

In the country as a whole, we already talk nostalgically of the warmer summers that we remember in our youth – statements often not born out by meteorological data – and without the tangible reminder of bland photographs of rainy weeks spent in boring caravan sites in Skegness; or ill-framed pictures of the tedium of the everyday ebb and flow of daily life, these myths – and worse – will only perpetuate.

The truth is often un-photogenic.  But that is no reason for it to be forgotten.

© The Mudskipper; original mudskipper image © Charles Lam

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