Good Photos§

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: October 7, 2016; revised: August 15, 2017; readers in past month: 1212

Alabama Boy

I enjoy photography, in particular photographing people. With so many people who now own and use cameras, I’m pleased that so many photographs of people are being made. However, as I scroll through the photos I see on Facebook and elsewhere, I’m often disenchanted and disappointed in the results of many.

This morning I remembered that I have an old photograph that I purchased in 1986 at an antique shop in Birmingham (Alabama) in the U.S. I dug around a little while ago and found it and scanned it. As I look at this photo, I recall some lines from the movie, One-Hour Photo. The main character, Sy Parrish, played by Robin Williams, said something interesting about photographs of people:

“If these pictures have anything important to say to future generations, it’s this: I was here. I existed. I was young, I was happy, and someone cared enough about me in this world to take my picture.”

I don’t know who is this boy. Judging from the type of photo and the style of clothes he’s wearing, it was probably taken in the early part of the twentieth century and his family had some money. There are other interesting aspects of this photo related to the location and time period.

Think about it, though. This photo was taken at a time when cameras weren’t common and used film. That meant that you didn’t take a few hundred photos in a day and hope for a good one — or share all of them, bad ones included. People took time to think about what and who to photograph, to compose the shot, and they took one shot, maybe two.

Someone cared about this boy and this photo. Maybe it was the photographer, or maybe he was hired and his parents were standing behind the photographer they hired to take this shot. This child, the photographer and unseen on-lookers, locked in a moment of time, are probably dead and gone. Maybe someone knows who was this boy because he’s their grandfather, but soon that person will be dead. And yet this photograph may continue on beyond them all.

We’re important enough to photograph: make the photographs you make and post and save good ones.