Guest post by Shannon MacFarlane from shannonmacfarlanephotography.com
We live in a sea of pictures. In the course of an average day, a social media user sees a steady stream of snapshots of vacations, the irritating guy on the bus, the cute expressions babies and toddlers make, dinner, the sofa the dog destroyed, and of course lots and lots of selfies. Social media and mobile devices have given us the ability to rapidly document and share every nuance of our lives with our friends and family, and I’ll admit I do enjoy seeing images from people who are important to me.
How much is too much, though? At what point do we transition from images that connect to images that overwhelm?
InfoTrends forecasts that people will take 1.3 trillion digital photographs in 2017, and 87% of those will be captured with mobile devices (that’s 79% for phones and 8% for tablets). In 2010 the total number of images was 0.35 trillion. Oh, and these numbers exclude professional photographers, by the way.
We really are in a sea of pictures. Photo technology has become so ubiquitous and simple that we’ve lost what is most precious about photography – connection. Digital files have become less valuable and more disposable. The Professional Photographers of America (PPA) reported that 67% of people stored their photographs only digitally. About 70% of people no longer create or maintain photo albums and more than half haven’t printed a single photo in the past year. We take pictures just because we can and not because the moment means something to us.
We are in danger of losing this generation. We are losing our connections with our past and leaving behind very little that is archival. Many of the pictures we take are trivial and have little meaning in the long-term.
Something extraordinary happens when people view photographs on high-quality paper or canvas. First, people must choose photographs to print and keep, and because they take up space that they see in their homes it’s important to choose the photos of high quality that tell a story. They are intentional and created to connect. They have something to hold that is real. They feel texture and weight. They smell the history and years of storage. They hear the sound of the album pages turning. In print, photography is a multi-sensory experience. It engages more of the brain and that provides more opportunities for recalling memories in vivid detail. Children grow up in homes where they see themselves on the walls and feel loved. Couples remind themselves of what love was like in the beginning and how much it has grown and changed when they come home at the end of the day and look at their wedding portraits as they take off and hang their coats.
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Families connect to past generations in little things that only photographs can capture. It’s the slight curl of a lip in an almost-smile that Aunt Catherine was famous for that her great grandnephew Thomas does. It’s seeing great great grandfather John’s eyes in baby Marie. It’s looking at a picture and feeling a visceral connection because so many pieces are inherently familiar. We want to know where we came from and who came before us. With pictures we can see that.
I am fortunate to be the mother to a little boy who several medical professionals said wouldn’t be here or wouldn’t enjoy a high quality of life. That boy is three years old and inspires strangers to remark about his joie de vivre. He thrived despite an adverse pregnancy, an in utero diagnosis of an organ abnormality that would require surgery, and beginning life in neonatal intensive care (NICU). He’s healed beautifully through two surgeries and lives with epilepsy. He has worked through stuff many adults do not experience and is now at the age where he’ll be able to recall some of his adventures later.
The first “high-risk pregnancy” alarm sounded at 11 weeks. The second at 15 weeks. The third at 23 weeks. I felt like I was on borrowed time. I wanted to document everything I could because I wouldn’t have another opportunity. He might not be born alive. I might not live to deliver him. If he does arrive breathing, we might have just a few minutes. My husband might lose both of us. It was heavy. I wanted to leave behind as much as I could.
I went beyond the weekly pregnancy pictures. I photographed my feet and wrote about how swollen they were. I took pictures of the stacks of medical documents and bills I collected. I laid out pictures from all the ultrasounds (19 ultrasounds with an average of four pictures each). When he arrived, I photographed him in the NICU. I photographed his monitors, his g-tube, his incision. I photographed most of our visits to clinics for follow up appointments in the first year. I photographed him scooting around on a riding toy just outside the MRI room. He was adorable in his tiny little hospital gown.
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I photograph him playing at his mud kitchen with his cat and dog. I photograph him sleeping. I photograph him sneaking cookies from the kitchen. I photograph him picking his nose. A lot.
These are the pictures I take and print. Each of them tells a story about his life and how he has become the person he is. As he grows older we’ll revisit these pictures, books, and albums with stories he’ll remember and save to tell his own children. They’ll pass those stories down about their dad’s adventures when he was a kid and their nutty grandmother who photographed the little things.
Shannon is an advocate for wholehearted connection and intentional living which are central to her work as a photographer. She believes in holding hands, vulnerability, celebrating relationships, 10-second hugs for hellos and goodbyes, laughing until her face hurts, full body smiles, and that grief lasts as long as love. She witnesses families on their hardest days – when they are living with loss, serious medical conditions, and special needs – to show them the beauty they create in their adversity. Shannon documents her client families’ adventures with compassion, empathy, and grace so they may preserve their histories. Grief and adversity called to Shannon during her pregnancy (2012-2013) and broke down her door when she delivered her son, a NICU graduate who lives with epilepsy. She is working on her PhD in psychology. Shannon lives with her husband, son, great Dane, and two cats in Tacoma, WA. Her life and work as a photographer lives at www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com.
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