I went to a dinner party last week. A French-themed affair which had my friends and I dressed in stripes and wielding onions. I felt chic for once in red lipstick with a jaunty scarf tied around my neck, but was mainly glad of the excuse to eat white bread after so long of being good. To deny the baguette would have been sacrilege, like weeing up the Eiffel Tower. The night was an homage to total gluttony, and descended into loud swearing around the dinner table and lots of drunken posing for photos while Edith Piaf warbled in our ears. It was like Allo Allo if René had spiked everyone’s drinks with crack.
The next morning, while lying in bed and wishing I was dead, I prodded through my phone with bleary eyes for photographic evidence of our casual disgrace. From out of about a hundred vaguely dodgy blurs could be caught the odd grin, some men kissing, empty bottles, and a lot of pouting.
Prostrate in my Bergundy tomb, I giggled to myself at what nobs we all were. Though none of the photos will see the light of day, I numbly mused how nice it is that I captured something of the night, especially when so much was risked to the extremely likely post-wine amnesia. (The men who kissed would undoubtedly have no recollection of it whatsoever.) I have a habit of turning into the self-elected photographer of the evening. There’s something in the distance from things, the capturing of things which appeals to me, the chance for reflection while in the moment, but occasionally I worry that I miss out on actually ‘being there’.
Squinting at the blurry pouted lips, I realised that we looked a bit like ironic versions of some of the girls I teach, who spend their lives peering up at their own camera with uncomfortably taut mouths which resemble panicked monkeys’ bums more than they do a siren’s invitation to pleasure. I always feel like a total mum when they do it. I want to tell them to stop it, that they’re pretty enough, that they don’t need to force their faces into what they’ve been trained by a dubious media to think is alluring.
Then I get over it and think it’s just girls having fun. That they will look back at those photos and most likely marvel at their cheekbones, or be surprised that their skin was never as bad as they thought it was.
It’s such a strange thing we’ve done; turning everyone into photographers. Thanks to the many apps on smartphones which allow even the most cack-handed of people to look like artists, we are capturing more moments than we ever did before. Photos used to take infinite set-up by a man who then scurried under a black sheet, and then it would take an uncomfortably frozen pose to get the most basic of pictures. People would save their pennies to go to a photographic studio in their Sunday best to get a shot of them looking rather dour against a fake window-frame. Group shots always had everyone looking like they were waiting to die of the pox.
As photography improved and got easier, so people became more at ease. The twentieth century moved on quick; from can-can girls caught in the act, to action shots of war, to the 50s, where everyone was snapped in a swimsuit holding a beach ball; it was the law. Like it is now the law for girls to pout. The journey of a people is all there. We have captured our own ‘liberation’ and we safeguard it by constantly moving onto the next stage. We preserve, and move on. Preserve, and move on. A photo is a metaphor for all this. We say “This is us. We did this.”, then do something else. We’re amazing, unlike anything else in nature. Photography expresses our social evolution. It is our proof we were here.
If we continue to ‘loosen’ up, if we think nothing now of pouting or flashing our knickers or giving the V-sign (the non-Churchill kind) to the camera, or of capturing sex and childbirth, whatever will we be free to do in the future? How will we choose to represent ourselves? Will we run out of freedoms? Will they remain freedoms if they just become ordinary? For while the camera captures us, we also remain the masters of hiding. Our numbing pain, our suppressed dreams, our very real but unrequited loves.
What will we look like to the future? Drunkards free to swear around a table, pouting masks of a femininity which has lost its way, people who build prison walls as soon as they smash down others?
Will it be the truth, or do we by our very nature find new ways to evade it?