Over the last month or so, I’ve been continuing work on my found Polaroids. When I initially started, I thought the work was about connections, longing, and the notion of family. I wasn’t really grounded in this concept, because it was one of those things that made sense in my head, but in context just didn’t convey what I hoped. But, because I’m stubborn, I kept working on this piece to figure out what it was about. It was bothering me, and I needed to figure it out, so I didn’t stop. I’ve made a break-through recently. Around Polaroid #120, everything clicked.
I was making up narratives in these photographs, and I was playing along in others. I was altering and editing and censoring them. I don’t know these people. Can’t these things be said about how we present ourselves today, on social media?
It’s no secret that we fabricate our lives for the internet. Everything we put on Facebook is carefully tailored to the image of ourselves we want the world to see. Sometimes the lives we create for ourselves are the total opposite of what we really are, or what we’re really going through. Like the UPenn Student who looked fine on Instagram, but was anything but. Or, the girl who pretended to go on vacation, but was actually at home. We are making up our lives.
Thing is, this phenomenon isn’t anything new. We’ve been doing this since forever, carefully picking and choosing what we wish people to know about us. We put on different masks, hide things, make things up. The Polaroids I’ve been working with have a common thread– they are photos of instances that are happy, the kind of events that warrant a camera. Birthday parties, family reunions, holidays, vacations, all of the things in life that are supposed to be joyful. This is fine, but when you flip through your old family albums, you can’t help but notice some small things. Like blank spaces in the album, or a photograph of two people who look so happy, but they actually got into a huge argument years later and they now hate each other. Or a photograph of a loved one that looks so calm, but really they were dying of cancer. Photographs don’t tell the truth. But we still believe they do.
So many of us go on social media and get depressed that everyone is having more fun than us. Spoiler alert: it’s not true. The people you are envious of aren’t posting their woes on social media, because why would they? Why would they do that when they can show the world the ideal version of themselves? We put filters on our images. We edit them and we alter the content. With my Polaroids, I’m doing the same thing. Sometimes, I’m making fun of the efforts we go through to hide ourselves. Other times, I play along with the narrative in the photo, as we oftentimes do with our friends on Facebook or Instagram. “Oh, Katie looks so happy with her new guy, even though last night she called me crying about how she missed her ex. Oh well, I’ll like this picture anyway.” And, sometimes, I hint at the more melancholy parts of life that we all deal with, but pretend don’t exist. It’s a curious phenomenon.
The other connection I made with this project is how I kept thinking of Instagram and the editing features on that application, and the relationship to the Polaroid. Y’know, the earliest “instant” image? Snap a photo, wait a minute, and see if it’s what you like. Looks bad? Re-take it. Just like with our cellphones today. “Ew! I look terrible in that one– let’s do it again!” We really haven’t changed over the decades.
So, here are the next, uh, 51 Polaroids of my piece. I have 100 more of these, but, y’know, excess and all that.
I plan on having 1000 of these fabrications by the end of the summer.
Wish me luck.