Sunday, October 23, 2011

Photoshopping My Life

I went hiking on the Boardman River Saturday evening with my mom and two of my boys.  Since the peak of the color tour passed about two weeks ago, I wasn't really expecting much from Mother Nature, so I was pleasantly surprised when the autumn colors sprang out from unexpected places.  SmartPhone in hand, I hiked and took pictures with the second app I have figured out (Angry Birds was the first one). 

When we got home, I uploaded them to iphoto and let Mac do its magic.  My mom murmured kind words about my pictures, then said with a hint of sadness, "That's even nicer than it was."

Any you know what? She was right.  The pictures make our hike look a lot cooler than it was.  I clicked buttons and slid bars until I made a picture that, to a large degree, was not true.  The only picture that accurately captured the event was one where Vincent did NOT want his picture taken.  When you see his face - that's how it was.  

I was on a mission trip once in which a father and daughter were among the group.  When I saw photos after the trip, the smiling, affectionate freeze frame put the lie to a trip that was full of tension, avoidance, and drama. I remember thinking, "Hey, at least they have their pictures. I hope it makes up for the trip."

As a Christian, I give allegiance to a worldview that grounds itself in words more than images. "In the beginning was the Word..." Jews eventually became know as People of the Book, and Christianity arose from the soil of language as expression, not image.  In fact, the 10 Commandments make clear that God was not interested in His people trying to capture His reality or nature through images.  Could it be that God was protecting us from our ability to distort and manipulate reality through the use of images?  

The Bible  contains lots of beautiful poetic imagery and word pictures to describe God, but that's not the same thing as the actual image. When Jesus incarnated as the express image of God, even that was temporary, not permanent.  

That command about images always seemed odd to me, but I'm starting to feel differently. Is it possible that the Bible (and by extension, God) stresses the importance of words to capture history and history's God because both the power and the frailty of images are greater than that of words?  Sure, images move us - one of them is worth 1,000 words, I suppose - but that great blessing can also be a great curse.  

For the record, I love the fact that my hike with mom is recorded in pictures.  If nothing else, the pictures will keep her life close to me even though the moment is passed.  

But I will also remember, whenever I see the pictures, that the day was not quite that sunny, and the colors not quite that bright, and the lake not quite so blue.... and wonder what else about my life I have not remembered truthfully, and why real life is so bland to me that I must photoshop it to treasure it.


  1. I really liked this post, Mr. Weber. So true.

  2. Good reflections. maybe it's not that life seems bland to us in comparison, but that this new social-life we've taken up online is bland and must be made more exciting and interesting through auto-tweaked photos.

    "Could it be that God was protecting us from our ability to distort and manipulate reality through the use of images?"
    You critique the vagueries of images, when I would argue that words-language can be just as distorting if not more. Languages are alive and evolve themselves, and even more than that, "collapse" the inexpressible complexity of reality into nice bite size chunks for our meager brains to comprehend, in the process culling much of the meaning out of that which the word points at, or stands to represent.

  3. And so when we think we're talking about something with substance, perhaps we're really just playing with shadow puppets, and not the real things in themselves. ;)

  4. Levi... going all Platonic on me :) Your point about language is a good one. I agree- language can be distorted too. To stick with Plato's idea: he thought paintings and sculptures were bad, because they were a representation of a representation - and image of an already distorted image of the Real. Words on other hand.... Mmmmm, good (if I may quote Homer Simpson's opinion of beer). I'm not saying Plato was right, btw.
    So here's a question: of the two mediums of communication, which is better? Neil Postman wrote pretty compellingly about how technology (including the Rise of the Image) was changing everything. Think of how TV changed politics. We now vote for flash over substance - and image over content - all the time. We increasingly tend to emote rather than think, and feel rather than process. Emotions and feelings aren't bad things at all, but I would suggest that they ought not be primary things when it comes to how we view reality. And images, I believe, move us away from the (albeit tenuous) stability of language and into the ethereal realm of feelings.
    What do you think?