Social media is like a picture frame, a billboard. Each image is meticulously chosen by someone. A seemingly perfect shot. And put on display for all to see.
But what we forget, what we don’t see, is the photographer behind it. The reason why it was framed the way it was framed. What was on their mind when the shot was taken. What we don’t see is the story, of the creator and the subject. We can caption it. We can try to tell it in words or in presentation. But it still doesn’t show everything. And it never will. We may come close, but it’s just a picture, after all.
The viewer can read it and see it, but they choose what they feel because of it. We can never change that. We can try and we can hope, but no matter what we share, especially on the internet, the viewer chooses what they want to see.
I love photography. In fact, it’s one of my most cherished gifts. Photos have so much power and meaning and purpose. But I realize, more so now than ever before, that no matter the skill or the intention of the photographer, we miss so much with just a photograph. Plus, they’ve gotten all too perfect. They can even be deceptive. So deceptive…
Social media is full of beautiful images. A highlight reel of our lives, so to speak. And don’t get me wrong: I’ve seen some very raw and real photos on social media, too. It’s not all bad or manipulative. But even so, the viewer will see what they want to see. Will it be what you intended to show, as the photographer? Maybe. Maybe not. But it will never be the FULL story, as much as we try to capture it and make it all-encompassing.
I took this photo for a very specific reason. It probably just looks like my sweet son napping in a rocking chair. I probably would caption it with how much of a challenge he has been but how this sweetness reminds me of his innocence. And of course, that’s not a lie. It’s just not the whole story. I took this picture, so I could look back on it and transport myself back to it.
What you don’t see in this picture is how many minutes I stood and stared at him and how much I internally struggle with how he, of all my children, grew up the fastest and in the biggest blur.
What you don’t see is the guilt I feel knowing I didn’t cherish his earliest moments as much as I wish I had.
What you don’t see is the frustration that preceded this moment, this day, that brought on exhaustion for both of us.
What you don’t see is the time I spent wrestling with how to parent him with his stubbornness, wondering if he inherited that from me, trying to understand him.
What you don’t see is how he stood at my bedside the night before, asking to crawl in and lay with me–something I rarely ever let happen–but this time, I did.
What you don’t see is the relief and the flood of happiness I felt when his eyes fluttered closed on the pillow next to me, and I was able to recall the co-sleeper next to my bed again and hear his newborn coos.
What you don’t see is the smile I had as I turned off the light to let him sleep, in peace, even though he normally fights to stay awake every afternoon.
What you don’t see is the mother who took the photo, who doesn’t have all the answers, doesn’t know if she’s doing this right; yet she stopped everything just to stand and admire this beauty she created and let her heart refill in the quiet moment.
I’m sure you didn’t get all that from the photos, but that was the story. And the point of sharing this is not to say that we shouldn’t take and share photos–please, by all means, take the photos! This definitely is not to say that photos fall short of making us feel something. That’s not true, either. It’s just a reminder that no matter how hard we try, no matter how we frame it, no matter what we caption it, a photo will likely never be the entire story a viewer will see or feel. This is largely a reminder to you and even myself to see beyond the photographs, connect beyond the pictures you see.
Don’t write someone’s story based on the photos you see.
Don’t assume you know the whole story.
And in a world that’s almost primarily digital at this moment in time, don’t feel the need to be picture-perfect all the time.
Go ahead and take the photo and even the selfie; yes, do it, and share it if you want. But as the photographer, don’t forget the real story. Share that, too, with those who are worthy of it.
And if you’re the viewer, don’t forget that there’s probably a lot you don’t see. Maybe it’s a beautiful landscape, but maybe it’s the place where the creator walks every day because they need to escape from the monotony of their life for a moment.
Maybe it’s a pretty self-portrait, but it could be missing the person you’re hoping to impress, to notice you, because maybe you had lost yourself a bit.
Not every caption is going to bear the entire story–and doesn’t have to–but just be mindful that…there’s probably still a story there.
There’s always a story…behind every picture. Be the one who seeks to find it. Don’t dwell in just the highlight reel that consumes our world. Even I get lost in that place sometimes. But when you can, seek to find the meaning behind the photos you see and the photos you take. At least acknowledge that they’re there. That shift in perspective is monumental in itself.
There’s truly something magical about the power of pictures and the often untold stories they keep. We just can’t forget that all the photos we see aren’t always exactly what they seem.
But there’s a story there, somewhere.