*Broadway Melody of 1974, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – Lyric by Peter Gabriel
I spend a lot of time looking at photographs. Too much time. I look for interesting locations to shoot, inspirational techniques or shooting angles, creative ways to process images, striking poses, dramatic lighting, inventive models and more. I even look just to enjoy the image sometimes.
I’m not alone of course, and this post follows yesterday’s as a reflection on the power that images play in our lives. Marshall McLuhan’s birthday was recently honoured with a Google Doodle (explained here), and though the intellectual’s ideas fell from favour in the latter part of his life, they now seem particularly prescient.
I don’t have a Facebook profile for reasons described in my previous post. As a medium for promoting the “look at me and what a great time I’m having” message it creates a distorted view of the world which is frequently cited in mental health issues such as depression, eating disorders and associated body image. The medium is the message indeed. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has recently published a book about how we present ourselves to the online world. It’s called Everybody Lies.
I’ve been a member of a number of dating sites since my divorce, and this is another area where image becomes important as part of the message, and in interesting ways.
I’d originally planned to illustrate this post with some example images from dating profiles (anonymous of course) but even then felt that the people concerned might be unhappy with my interpretation of the message they presented, so this will be a post without pictures (other than the pixelated header) where I share my philosophy on why people might use images that singularly fail to show them in their best light to a possible suitor.
- It was shot somewhere nice. For this reason the picture brings back happy memories and so there’s a “halo” effect that obscures the fact that the subject is too small in the image to be actually seen, or so backlit by bright sun that they are reduced to a featureless silhouette. (And at my age, most of our silhouettes aren’t what they used to be!)
- I look really cool in this shot. Yes those sunglasses look stylish. Your hat is wonderful too, but you are now completely unrecognisable.
- I look really young in this. The lines in your face have miraculously disappeared because the shot is overexposed, blurry, or you have processed it through an app on your phone. Perhaps the reason is because you’ve posted an old photo where you were young! Assuming that the viewer of your profile doesn’t see through this subterfuge, they are in for a real disappointment when they meet you. I usually do see through it and ask “what are they hiding?”
- I’ll apply some Snapchat filters. Presumably to show what a fun and “down with the kids” type your really are. Sorry but making yourself look like a dog, a deer, or a hula girl is ok for teenagers. They’ll grow out of it. You don’t have that excuse and it has the same effect as #2
- I’m still really hot so I’ll flaunt it. This is an interesting one. I’m not one of those who believe that a rape victim in a revealing outfit was “asking for it”, but reading many women’s profiles they almost always feel the need to explain that they’re not looking for one night stands or casual sex, which suggests that there are a lot of guys who have that expectation. That being the case, the bikini shot, the low-cut top or the short dress and fishnets might not be the best opening gambit!
- I look really miserable in this. The excuse for such an image is usually “I haven’t got anything better”. Sorry but we all have camera phones these days. If you can’t do a decent selfie (that includes me) ask a friend. The message this conveys is of someone who can’t make the effort.
So if you’re planning on any online dating beware – a picture is worth a thousand words. (Or about 750 in this case!)
Which brings me to another finding from Seth’s research, and one which perhaps belies my claim to be applying a photographers eye to this process. The biggest factor in whether a man wants a second date with a woman is her appearance when they first meet. And for women? Men should shut up and let them talk about themselves. If only it were so easy!