There’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting out pretty photos, so long as taking pretty photos isn’t all there is to it. And so long as the pretty photos you take are pretty to you because you decided they were pretty and not because the Instagram feed of a travel blogger you follow told you they were.
The thing is, we as a generation have forgotten to take photos for ourselves. We have gotten so subconsciously brainwashed into following a specific model, a perfectly designed template of what a good photograph should look like, that we have long forgotten how effortless and enjoyable capturing moments for no one else but ourselves felt like.
We have forgotten the laughter that bursted out each time our friends took a candid photo of us with our mouths awkwardly wide open, because now we immediately ask them to delete it without even thinking twice.
We have forgotten the joy of sticking photos into our favorite books and being reminded of how awesome our childhood was; now we throw all those in a digital cloud, indefinitely out of sight, essentially out of mind.
We have forgotten how to be quirky, funny, energetic, and goofy in our photos. And in the age of memes and 9Gag, we ironically have forgotten that it’s okay to be wacky and laugh at our mistakes. We have become so hypercritical that the things that used to bring us joy, including taking photographs, now give us anxiety, jealousy, and stress.
We have forgotten how awesome it was when one day we got assigned a school project where we got to go out of the classroom and take photos of flowers, or butterflies, or food, or plants. And then we snapped away without a care in the world, because deep down we knew that the only comments about the photos we took that mattered were our own.
We have forgotten to be spontaneous, to let the strands of our hair catch the wind however and whichever way they damn well please, and to allow our bellies to rest easy even when we’re at the beach and are unapologetically shirtless.
We have forgotten to ecstatically run to embrace the waves with open arms, even when it ruined our perfect tropical outfits.
We have forgotten how to dip in the pool, or gaze at the sunset, or climb mountains without judging the environment’s worthiness of making it to our feed.
We have forgotten how to treasure the photographs we’ve taken. We have forgotten the concept of treasure-keeping, of compiling memories in a safe place, of sticking polaroids on the walls of our bedroom, of zooming in on the joyful tears and the tearful laughter.
We have forgotten.
And we have forgotten because on a deeper level, we are lost.
The main antagonist in the modern world of photography really is our growing inability to make our own choices — to decide what looks beautiful to us, what “stunning” means for us, what “success” looks like for us. If we can no longer identify ourselves due to the influence of the Internet, what will become of us?
It’s time to find ourselves again after being lost in the digital wilderness for years. And maybe the path back home begins with changing the way we view photography. It’s like a metaphor for perspective: from which angle do you want to see your life? What is your idea of beauty? How do you want to edit yourself so you can live your best life?
The reality we never take time to admit is that there is nothing that exhausts the human soul more quickly than pleasing people. Start taking photos for the memories, for capturing moments instead of brand names, for catching genuine smiles instead of synthetic likes, for getting doses of life instead of glimpses of mere existence, for positive affirmations of yourself, by yourself, instead of superficial validation from faceless usernames that ultimately render no meaning.
Discover who you are again without the blinders set for you by society. Live the way you are meant to live, and do not ever let the shade of manmade norms block your inner light.
And with every photograph you take from here on out, shine on. Shine bright. And shine for yourself first, before you shine for anyone else.