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The Instagram Photo Taken In 1969

Have selfies really changed photography that much?

11/01/2017 3:18 PM AEDT | Updated 12/01/2017 11:06 AM AEDT
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There is a black-and-white photograph of my mother, father and two older sisters that sits in a silver frame in my living room. My eldest sister has the same picture in her lounge room and my middle sister has a copy outside her bedroom. I'm only a baby in this portrait, my parents are still happily married and my sisters are little kids. The photo was taken by a professional photographer on the beach in 1969.

There were no iPhone cameras, no selfie sticks, no filters. Instead there were people roaming the beach taking photos of people on their family holidays. The photographer had just one click of the shutter to create this important memory for our family and no-one saw the results until the film was developed and collected at his studio one week later. One image printed on Kodak photo paper and stored away from the sun.

On a more recent beach holiday over the Christmas period, I couldn't help thinking about the back-story to this family photo (which has now been stored digitally, enabling every family member to have their own copy). I imagined us sitting on the beach, the photographer positioning us carefully to take advantage of the sun, our relative positions in the family and of course, our moods -- it is no coincidence that there is ice cream captured in this photo.

I imagined my parents' surprise and delight when they went to pick the photo up a week after it was taken and saw that we were all facing the camera and there were no visible tears.

One week feels like it would have been a long time to wait. Except it wasn't long for them, it was standard, expected.

Which takes me back to the beach in 2017 where it seems everybody is a photographer and nobody is waiting for the perfect picture. In fact, they are insisting on making it happen straight away.

I wish I was embellishing facts to make this more interesting but, in fact, it's true... you can witness it for yourself. There are people who pack reflectors and sheets to go with them to the beach. Not reflectors to get a tanned face and not sheets to lie on, but rather lighting aids to get the perfect photograph on the beach.

I saw more than one group of people with a mini studio out there on the beach. I'm sure their pics were great but I couldn't help wondering whether buckets and spades would have made better travelling companions considering the destination.

But it wasn't so much the paraphernalia required for the shot that had me thinking about our family photo. It was the work it took to strike the right pose.

While some 40 years ago I can imagine the photographer telling us where to put our legs and how to hold our heads, today's selfie takers (who needs somebody to help you when you can simply switch the mode on your camera?) know exactly how they need to be positioned.

And while I assume the final products looks awesome on Instagram or Facebook when they are finally ready for publication, it is actually very entertaining, if not somewhat disturbing, to watch someone get themselves ready for a selfie.

Their lithe, young bodies contort themselves so that their chests and butts are displayed at maximum impact, their lips are rearranged into outward facing tulips and smile after smile is proffered to the camera in search of the one that will be good enough to add a filter to and edit for publication.

It's a truth that's probably hard to bear, but however good someone looks in a selfie, they almost certainly looked a little bit odd and very unnatural when the actual photo was taken. There is nothing candid about that snap, no shot in an instant, no spontaneity, no being caught off guard. It's like a choreographed maneuver without grace or beauty but with stunningly edited results.

And for the person bearing witness to the procedure and not the final outcome, it just looks odd.

But then I think how we would have looked pretty staged and choreographed on the beach in 1969. The only real difference was that someone else was taking the photo and we were paying for it. If we had the technology to take the photo ourselves there is no doubt we would have jumped at it.

I know this because we tried to recreate the image in 2015 and we failed miserably. Maybe we needed a light box and a sheet. And one of those reflective boards you can probably pick up near the beach.

The more things change, the more they stay the same *said while squinting at the camera trying for a natural smile*.

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