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Since When Do We Need So Many Pictures?
Edward Suhadi comment 4 Comments

At our first solo exhibition Lagu Baru, there’s this one scene that I’ll never forget.

A crowd was watching the movie Lagu Baru playing and I was leaning on the far side of the room, when suddenly something caught my attention.

The left side was full of people, while he stood alone in the hallway.

There’s somebody standing in the middle of the empty hallway between the two exhibition walls. He was standing there silently, his right arm was tucked toward his body, his left hand was covering his mouth.

He was crying. Sobbing actually. He was covering his mouth to keep his voice down.

I recognized him, it’s Tidar, a Pengajar Muda who has just returned from his one year service. He seemed to be very emotional. I can see his body was shaking and his hand occasionally wiped the tears rolling down his face.

He was standing in front of this photograph:

Shot by Henry in a classroom in Passer, Kalimantan.

It was totally understandable why Tidar, after one year of service in difficult regions of our country, going through monumental obstacles, all in the name of bringing change to the land he loves so much, was sobbing over that picture.

It was indeed a powerful picture: the word ‘Indonesia’ at the back of a kid, that one day might very well be representing Indonesia.

I was not sure what moved him so much. Was it the word, was it the kid’s potential, was it the image of the classroom, was it the memory he had while looking at this picture, I did not know, since I was leaving him be.

That scene presented before me was so powerful that it stayed with me for weeks. It begs the question many of us should give an answer to:

Since when do we need so many pictures to tell a story? To evoke emotion? To linger in a memory?

It was a delight walking slowly around the exhibition. People were taking their time, walking from one frame to another, reading the short background stories we prepared beside the photographs. Tidar was not the only one crying actually. A lot of people had their eyes glistened looking at the pictures. I saw eyeglasses removed and tears wiped.

Mr Anies Baswedan enjoying this one frame of a school in a morning. He then bought it.

Put it in contrasts with what we are doing with our pictures nowadays.

In order to really remember an event, we’re not satisfied with just one camera. We demand four, five, six! From every angle possible, with second by second captures.

And with the stupidity that comes with LCD previews, fast shutter speeds and cheap memory cards, we photographers oblige to the clients: “Yes, we will provide you with six photographers. No problemo.”

And so the so called photojournalism turned from ‘telling stories’ into ‘I gotta get as many angles as I can as fast as I can in order not to get angry phone calls from my client’.

This goes to clients and photographers: Maybe we should rethink on how we enjoy a photograph, on how we preserve a memory.

Have you flipped your childhood album pages lately? It’s magic that we cannot replicate.

Frame by frame of candid photographs, over-exposed scenes, and the not-so-right moments. Your brother is looking the other way while pushing his hand into the birthday cake, somebody’s bending down and showing his ass in the background, your nephew is crying because he didn’t like sitting for the camera, your dad mouth is open at the side of the swimming pool.

But somehow we chuckled over the images. Slowly observing the things inside that one photograph, memories reconstruct and feelings evoked.

Maybe it’s the holes in the story that brings the magic.

The imperfections that make the moments seem so real and personal, and not like teared pages from a wedding catalogue.

We the photographers are to blame. Photographers learn to make the perfect, clean, well-composed, breath-taking angles, presenting them to clients that will be educated that those things are the most important things to look for in a picture.

And since quantity, not quality, is the easiest bargaining chip on the negotiation table, we photographers promised, “I’ll shoot *everything*. With as many as photographers as you could pay.”

And so the circus began 🙂

* * * * *

Let’s not go that way. Us, and you our clients, both.

Photographs are not CCTV recordings. One is for emotional enjoyment of art and memories, the other is for making sure everything is securely recorded, from every angle, at all times.

This is one of the reasons why we decided to reduce the number of photographs in our albums, and why we stopped having revisions. If you think we know what we’re doing, then you’ll know we’ll capture your day in a beautiful way, not in every possible way.

We rather have clients that will cry over our pictures, and not clients that argue why there are so few of them.

Let’s give space for imperfections, for missed moments. For a little truth.

Digest every frame, slowly enjoying things inside that rectangle. Don’t scroll too fast, don’t post too many, don’t hit ‘next’ too rapid.

Flip it like you flip a huge and heavy family album with those sticky plastic sheets.

And maybe, just maybe, we could bring some of the magic back.

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PS: And with this post, we’re launching – a site with selected pictures of our best frames, for your slow digestion 🙂 – Please share the word. Thanks.

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  1. It reminds me of certain quotes from the movie God Bless America…

    ‎”You can’t enjoy anything unless it was recorded. You were there. You lived it. Isn’t that enough of an experience? I mean, next time you want to remember something, instead of taking out your cell phone, why don’t you take a picture of it with your brain camera? I mean, when I was your age, nobody tweeted, yet we managed to have experiences.”

  2. Wonderful post. And so very accurate. Less photos, more intention, more space for story and emotion. Thanks for articulating this so well.