Birthdays are weird things. In a world where youth is often considered an ‘ideal,’ the fact that we actively celebrate an occasion that marks our ageing is a strange practice. Still, the fact that we celebrate personal development is fantastic. In that sense, birthdays don’t celebrate ageing so much as growth. As much as birthdays offer an opportunity to dream of the future, they also offer an opportunity to look back down the years and remember the people, places, and experiences that ultimately come to form what we consider to be fundamentally us.
Having come back from England three days ago, where we celebrated my twenty-first, I’ve been slowly sorting through my things and mentally preparing myself to move there at the end of the year. Going through the various cards and photographs that resulted in the celebration and trying to decide where I should keep them, I came across a folder with a whole lot of cards, letters, and photographs collected over several years. Spending the last while reading through all of them again, it got me thinking.
A lot of these photographs I don’t even remember being taken yet just seeing the corner of them throws me back over 10 years in some cases. Thinking about it, the old cliché that ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ comes to mind but I disagree; a picture describes the indescribable. Seeing these photos that, in some cases, I forgot even existed did not merely remind me of the event; they transported me back into that very moment. Photos don’t merely reflect an event; they become them.
Experiencing the profound, emotional influence something as simple as a photograph can have, I’m forced to wonder whether this selfie-loving time we find ourselves in still captures the essence and power of a photograph. Does the higher volume and seeming relative disregard for the importance of the photograph destroy its power? If photography is so emotive, surely our photographs would have a profound influence on our identity – our very ‘us-ness?’
If we consider the importance of photography, social media, and public perception on our identity – our very ‘us-ness’ – I wonder how much of who we are is due to others and how much of who we are is truly our own.