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’.
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.
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