Online versus reality: Why do we keep taking photos?

In today’s world 3.8 billion of us are walking around with a camera in our pocket. With 350 billion photos being taken daily it’s clear we’re making the most of them, but what’s motivating us to get out our cameras and take that shot?

by Imogen Davenport

Well, to find the answer I have to go back to where it all started. The first camera I held was a disposable one, and it was pretty exciting. My dad got my sister and I the waterproof version as we used to swim a lot. I felt a sudden urge of responsibility once I held the camera in my hands. This small device made me feel important and I wanted to show off what I could do with it. However, my eagerness would get the better of me and within minutes those 27 clicks were gone. From my memory I can pretty much guarantee those 27 photos looked mostly the same and were all of the beach we went to that day, even so, I remember looking through the lens and thinking it was amazing how I would click a button and in a few days’ time I would get a folder full of pictures. The ability of that camera astounded me, and I felt so excited to look at the photos I had taken.

Over the next few years that was all cameras were really used for; our parents would take pictures of our lives and either upload them to a file on our computer or print them out and put them in a photo album. It was simple, easy and fun. Back then we would spend more time living our lives than looking at them. It wasn’t until I became a teenager that photos started to mean something completely different to me. When I was fourteen, I was allowed a Meta account. I was thrilled and immediately wanted to set up my profile, at which point it told me that I would need add a display picture. I took a quick selfie on my mum’s computer mac and without knowing it the moment I pressed ‘upload’, was the moment that everything changed.

I started to notice how the girls with prettier pictures had more friends, I could see the birthday parties I wasn’t invited to, and new relationship statuses would pop up here and there. Pictures were plastered everywhere on my screen of people’s lives, people I didn’t even speak to but suddenly I knew their uncles name and what breed of dog they owned. It made me begin to really question myself. Question how likeable I was, whether my life looked fun enough, whether I was dressing ‘on trend’. It started to become all too time consuming, comparing my own life to the ones I saw on my screen.

Growing up seeing photos of models online or in magazines began to make me aspire to be just like them; I wanted the perfect body and the perfect face. If I had these things then I was convinced in return I would be gifted the perfect life, as was everyone else around me. So as time went on and expectations grew, we would all spend our days doing just that. Buying the best makeup, using filters to edit our photos, squeezing into clothes and bending our backs to get the perfect angle, just to prove to ourselves and to others that we were desirable and worthy.  Without realising it, as each day passed our need for external validation grew larger and larger. We stopped taking pictures of days out with our families and the photo albums became dusty and unused. It was only a matter of time before the camera became the weapon used to help drive the force of social expectations. When I held that disposable camera in my hands all those years ago, I never knew what would come of it and how much it would end up controlling my life.

With that realisation, I made the decision to flip the narrative on why I take photos. Photos tell stories, they inspire us and hold memories. The reason we take them shouldn’t be anything other than ‘because we wanted to’. We have one life, and it goes by quick so many of us want to document it. My social media expresses my personality more so that it ever has before. I love to upload images of where I have travelled, my style, snippets of my day when something has caught my eye. It has become a portfolio of me, who I am and the types of things I enjoy.  

I know now that we don’t have to expose every part of us to the world when we take a photo; not all photos or moments need to be shared. We can keep some for ourselves, for our enjoyment only if we so wish.  Photos are an incredible luxury that we all should continue to use in a healthy, productive, informative and genuinely enjoyable way. Of course, we want to take photos of our children as they grow up; we want to show our family the holiday we went on and we want to laugh at a photos we took with our friends when we were younger. Having photos to look back on is a wonderful way to see your life for what it is and has been. A single photo can bring out so many emotions in us, so why wouldn’t we want to keep taking them? Once a moment has passed you can’t relive it, but you can capture and hold on to it. I think the beauty in that is quite astounding.

But remember, don’t waste time watching other people’s lives – go live your own.

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