Photography and Social Media: Writing and Recording Your Own History

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Filtered photosets of Italian food and carefully angled selfies are common sights on social media nowadays. From Facebook to Snapchat, people have numerous outlets for showing off the most picture-perfect moments of their lives.

While I sometimes get annoyed by that one girl who posts one too many selfies in the same week, I must say that I am also guilty of oversharing the more glamorous parts of my life through Facebook photo albums and Instagram collages. Everytime I go somewhere new with my friends for a day, I bring my camera and tell anyone who is with me to get ready for a mini photoshoot.
Some people would go as far as saying that those who constantly take photos and post them on social media are trying to frame and filter their lives in the perfect way, to present themselves in the most flattering light for the next person who comes upon their Facebook profile. Rather than living in the moment, these people live to make it recordable.

But I would argue that the ability to take photos and post them on social media has made people more appreciative of the little things in life and aware of the fact that they are in control of it, that they can shape it into something memorable. People notice the artful plating of their dinners, the way the light hits the table at a restaurant, and how happy they are to be with their friends on a hike or road trip. These moments don’t pass people by, but become little gems they hold onto through the photos they take of them.

And knowing that these moments will become a permanent, tangible part of their lives — not just another detail lost in the past — people find themselves planning memorable moments worth looking back on. As a college student who has the freedom to choose when and where I go to places, photography has given me the motivation to live more adventurously, knowing that every outing will become a part of the story I am threading together.

This is not to say that some people don’t feed off of the validation they get from the exorbitant number of double-taps they get on their Instagram posts. Sometimes a photo really is just a means of improving self-esteem.

But people shouldn’t be quick to assume that everyone who posts about their lives is trying to show off and look more acceptable. Although I must admit that over the years I have become more conscious of how many likes I get for my posts, the reason why I post still remains the same. Since middle school, when I got my first camera and started posting photos on Facebook, social media has meant allowing my friends to see these photos, comment on them and reminisce on the experience we all shared, not just to give me a thumbs up to let me know I’m living my life right.

This has become even more important in college, when everyone is busy pursuing their careers and is rarely available to hang out with one another. Social media not only allows people to keep in touch, but gives people a way to share their memories and also look back on them when it’s been one too many months since they last saw each other. Just this past year, when my friend moved halfway across the country for college, she told me that she spent a night looking at our photos on Facebook, recalling the outings we shared together. These photos gave us something to smile about, something concrete to share despite being so far apart. And more than that, they encouraged us to make plans for when we see each other again.

In this way, though, photography on social media is also a double-edged sword. Looking at old posts can induce happy recollections, or force people to hold onto the past, even if it is sad. This is why people tend to erase certain photos off their Instagram after they break up with someone, thinking that this also erases that part of their past.

At the same time, this allows people to move on from their pasts and only keep the parts of it that they want in their present. In filtering and organizing their photos, people come to realize what kind of life they want to continue to live, and remove those parts that are visibly making them unhappy. Under all the likes and heart emojis is still an artifact of our history, something that can be unearthed later on and admired for the stories that it encapsulates.

Michelle Bui is a second year biological sciences major. She can be reached at mkbui@uci.edu.

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