December 20th – Advent

Day 20 – Vada Advent Calendar

Christmas Photography

On lists up and down the country the camera comes in as one of the most wanted pieces of tech to be found under the tree this Christmas. At a time of year which usually means the gathering of extended family, the camera is rarely out of reach as we frantically try to document those who mean something to us, the places we visit, the gifts we receive and most importantly the Christmas feast!

Photographing at Christmas is indicative of sharing. Family pictures end up in the albums for the next year, they are sent out in the batch of annual letters written to those family and friends who are worth a letter (but not worth the ten hour drive), they start the conversation which ends up with you being likened to a “heartbreaker (when he’s older)” or a jarring reminder of the passing of time. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Vine explode with a collective, often monotonous, visual response to this year’s festivity. Christmas through these platforms is a myriad of icons from the setting up of the tree to mess left on Boxing day. As part of his archival project ‘Other people’s photographs’, Joachim Schmid identifies another common photograph; the first photograph taken when unwrapping a new camera. Seeming somewhat ridiculous this act of photographing the box taps into a release of anticipation which cannot wait to find a more worthwhile subject.

Another photograph we see at Christmas is the assembled family portrait. These, without a shadow of a doubt, are a hidden treasure trove. I strongly urge you to Google (“other search engines available”) ‘Awkward Christmas photographs’. By doing this you will experience the delights of realising just how tame your family actually is in capturing a moment to represent the season. We all have these pictures and whilst they can be traumatizing, they are a source of pure entertainment in retrospect. I think the tackier and more horrifying the portrait the more wonderful a Christmas you will have endured. I hold a special place in my heart for the once ritualistic practice of going to your local department store in mid-November to have your portrait taken. The practice is strange yet was popular. With pictures such as this one, of my sister & I, from the Attridge archive I think you can see why!

XmasPhoto

One of the reasons just so much photography happens over the Christmas period is to create a point from which we can later remember. Through my own experience as a photographer I have always found there to be a distinction between experiencing something and photographing something. I’m not one of those photographers that has a camera around his neck constantly (perhaps that’s where I am going wrong!) as I like to experience the things that people think I should be photographing. We’ve all been to a gig where you’ve been forced to watch the performers through a sea of little screens in front of us.

Most fans at these gigs spend more time and effort recording the show than experiencing the transitory spectacle. A recent study has helped me justify my choice (which usually meets a bemused expression) as it has been proven that taking photographs prevents memories of the actual event take hold. Dr Hinkel, of Fairfield University (Connecticut), explains “people rely on technology to remember for them – counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves”.

In a test university students were taken to a museum and asked to either photograph or try and remember objects on display. The next day their memories were tested and as you can expect those who photographed objects had not committed the objects to their memory. Interestingly another running of this test found that if participants zoomed in on a specific part of the object before taking the photograph they were able to remember the full object more fully. In her own words the “results show how the ‘mind’s eye’ and the camera’s eye are not the same.”

In this instance photography, instead of being in the service of memory, might actually be in the service of forgetting and that is something which I think we should all remember this Christmas. Take lots of photographs this festive season, wear outrageously awful clothes and even have a go at creating the worst Christmas family portrait imaginable but do remember to enjoy the experience not just photograph it. Lastly, make sure you Instagram the damn turkey. 

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