The Merits of Serial Photography

February 6, 2007 at 11:08 am | Posted in Job, Photography | 10 Comments

Some people enjoy having their picture taken, I don’t. 15 years ago of course, as an average, teenage angst ridden, camera-shy adolescent I HATED it – to my very regret these days, because there are hardly any pics around of me as a teenager. That’s why I now appreciate every picture that someone secretly takes of me. And if it is not done secretly, you can be sure that it is going to come out awfully.

Although I know that posing for the camera is learnable and eventually a cultural thing – all Americans that I’ve ever met had their camera smile – I’m not very good at switching on a smile and flashing my pearly whites at the camera. But living in post-modern late capitalism means that you have to have your picture taken regularly, to satisfy particular administrative demands such as having a passport, signing up for a travel reduction card, registering for a seminar, etc.

The second most annoying thing – immediately after getting passport pictures that meet post 9/11 biometric standards (a nuisance) – are pictures for a letter of application.

Family PortraitFirst off, these pictures can only be a lie – they are supposed to be some kind of self-advertisement, but how can you squeeze the entire message of being you into just one picture? In the heyday of portrait photography (meaning – rightly after portrait paintings had their heyday, let’s says around 1880), it might have been that a photo was able to capture the essence of YOU – but all that existed of you as a public being was your position in society anyway. The pater familias posed as pater familias, the mother of four as mother of four. Period. This pattern of visual representation is certainly alive to date (as the picture on the right – source: Wikipedia – indicates), but it can hardly show more than an aspect of who you are. Niklas Luhman would agree with me that, in an ever more complex social system in which we take on various roles at a time, it is next to impossible to communicate the ramifications of what YOU are about in just one single picture. Also, which employer would like to hire someone one-dimensional?

I’ve hence resorted to serial photography. I admit, the final result is some kind of compromise. While I would have liked to come up with something like this:

Serial Photography

I am now going to go for that:

Serial Photography

These four pictures can shed light on only two sides of me, and both of them are represented in a fairly exaggerated fashion, with the intention to increase the contrast between the professional and the private self (and to thus suggest that the real person inhabits the ground some where in the middle).

But is the result any closer to the “truth”? Hardly. I am looking forward to the day that photographs will no longer be required in job applications – attaching one to an application in the the US might even lead to the conclusion that you wanted to use your looks, rather than your skills and qualifications, to endorse your application. And if you asked for a photograph as an employer, you might even face a discrimination lawsuit. There are some good sides to political correctness, let’s not forget that!

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