Looking At Pictures Of People


I look at pictures all day. Whether I am actually doing my job, sorting through thousands of photographs to find the best, most publishable few, or pretending to do my job, and digging myself into a comfortable Tumblr or fffound digital k-hole, I inhale images most of my waking hours. I click on them, I save them, I send them to other places, I share them with people that they make me think about. I’m lucky when most of them are pretty, especially if they set off that fluttering buzz in my heart, a skip in my breath, that only a perfect aesthetic experience can.

Looking at pictures of people, you start to notice things that get lost in the quickly changing landscape of everyday life. A still image provides the time and space for a kind of attention that draws out minute subtleties of gesture, expression, texture. The magical quality of certain visual details climbs out of a good picture, and into you.

For example: baby fingers. To claim I have noticed something new about babies is to say quite a lot. If there was a list of what I think about, they’d most likely make it into the top seven, at the very least. But after sorting through three thousand photographs of teeny, tiny people playing pianos, I realized: there is nothing quite like the fingers of the littlest. They are unlike any other life stage of our upper body’s appendages, mostly because of baby fat and the captivating light only a child can emit. When a baby waves around those ten chubby phalanges, a kind of expressiveness their aged counterparts can never quite create spills out of them, flowing over the edges of the frame.

Sometimes, a photograph can make perceptible abstract concepts or carefully hidden truths that real life keeps invisible, especially the most complicated abstraction of the human experience: love. When the complex and powerful emotion binds two people together, you can see it in a picture. It is like an invisible but imminently perceptible, palpable interpersonal force field. You can see it in the knowing, quiet smile of a lover standing in the margins of the frame, just happily looking, as their partner takes the center of the image. When a family, a really happy family, still untouched by the inevitable damage of decades and adolescence, interacts in a photograph, you can almost taste how much they love each other. There may only seem to be a tricycle, green grass, or popsicles filling up the negative space between bodies, but the emotional connection that ties them together shines through.

A picture taken at just the right, candid moment can reveal things about people they will never let show in the real world. That’s what makes a great photographer: they click at the right time and a previously hidden truth shows up on the film or in the pixels. There is a moment when a subject stops performing herself, hamming in front of the lens, their every fiber of consciousness fixed of their image being captured, ever so briefly and unintentionally, and something else altogether appears. You can see how much one believes in oneself, how much one truly understands the gravity of how amazing they are, the monumentality of their beauty. It is surprising, when a beautiful person lays bare they do not understand their own beauty. Sometimes it happens when two sets of eyes meet through the glass and plastic of the lens, and the image that comes out looks deep, deep into the subject’s veiled interior world. It could be in a laugh, or a tear, when the careful control of emotion we attempt to present to the world simply can’t be contained. And if the slight but significant pressure of an index finger happens to build at just the right moment, that rawness exists forever, within the four walls of picture.

You should follow Thought Catalog on Twitter here.

image – Orin Zebest