Flash or No Flash: Why Having Photographs of Yourself is Important

He sees his photographs as fleeting moments captured, a small triumph over the tribulations of time. They can be returned to, these capsules, can aid in reminiscing, in remembering. But I don't particularly want to remember this pimple, or even this quiet Sunday afternoon spent reading with this imperfect face. 

Last weekend, I went to the opening of a Seattle gallery show dedicated entirely to the work of Richard Renaldi and his Touching Strangers photography series. For the series, Renaldi asks complete strangers to pose in a photograph together, physically touching in some way.

In one photo, a young man, tattooed with gauges pulling apart the skin of his ears, holds a young girl in his arms. They have never met, but they are forced to be close, to act like family. Her palm sits firmly on his shoulder, but her fingers lift up ever so slightly, a sign of the discomfort, an indication that this intimacy is contrived, their bond unnatural. Both stare defiantly at the camera. 

In his presentation at the gallery, Renaldi discussed this photo and many others in great detail. In another from the Touching Strangers series, a towering homeless man kneels in front of an elderly woman, holding her tiny, frail hands. The woman was on a walk with her caretaker, the man sitting in a park. Their photo is sweet, the old woman both bemused and bewildered, the man sincere. 

The man hadn't been photographed in over a decade, Renaldi said. 

A few low, slow gasps from the audience. All of us, even the silent, steady breathers among us, pondering the sadness of this statement. The strange, thoroughly modern loneliness of a life without a camera's flash. 

Perhaps the point of a photograph is not the perceived quality of your appearance on a given day, or even the significance of the moment being captured, or the artsiness of the composition and lighting. Maybe it's about the interaction between the photographer and the subject, even if one is not entirely aware of the other. Maybe it's about the fact that one person is willing to witness the life of another, to find value in a moment, to overlook their appearance and the composition and save a piece of you forever, because you are worth something, worth everything. 

I am no longer resentful about photographs. 

I may not like the way I look, and I may not like that I, or a piece of me, anyway, becomes the possession of another. But I like that my friends, my family, my goofy, persistent father think pieces of me should be preserved. 

Subscribe to my mailing list

* indicates required