I was asked recently to restore the image above, which is a change of pace for me. I don’t do this very often but I have to admit to enjoying the process of methodically cleaning up old photos – it’s quite therapeutic.
It got me thinking though because apparently this is the only known photo to exist of this gentleman. How precious is that?!? The original is just a bit bigger than a passport photo and quite heavily stained and marked. I was tasked to clean it up and to blow it up to A5 size.
These days I think most of us take photos very much for granted. We all have gazillions of images of ourselves mostly as images taken on smartphones, compact cameras, occasionally taken on professional shoots and of course the infamous Selfies. It’s increasingly hard to imagine there being just one single image in existence of a loved one. However this is the second photo we have restored like this and the last one was literally an old passport photo – the only remaining physical likeness of a person who had passed away.
Makes you think doesn’t it?
Well it certainly got me pondering. Some Victorians refused to have their photos taken because they believed that every time this happened a moment of their life would be taken from them, captured and dragged from their soul forever – like a reversal of Dorian Gray’s painting. Ridiculous as that may sound today, it made sense in a romantic kind of way because as your image was captured and the moment passed, that moment could never happen again. Except of course that in reality what that means is we can’t stop or turn back time.
As most of you reading my blog would be photographic enthusiasts, I wondered what this means to us in terms of how and why we create our images. A lot of us would place emphasis on the aesthetic, technique and lighting – all great and noble causes. However, as the above image demonstrates, never underestimate the meaning, profundity and power that photography is capable of. That a photograph so simple can elicit such an emotional response hints at what we can do with this medium. It is not the beauty or the lighting or the composition that makes us feel for this image. It is the story, the meaning behind it, what it means to the people involved that creates such a powerful bow wave from a seemingly innocuous little photograph.
So perhaps the next time you pick up your camera or you’re planning a photo project – consider the meaning of your images before the aesthetic. It may really make a positive difference to you as a photographer.