The other evening I decided to organise family photos that were recently rediscovered. We had planned a family visit to my father-in-law Stan and his partner Nadine’s in London. After a nice cuppa, Stan presented us with decades of family photos from pre WW2 to the 1990s. We spent a wonderful afternoon looking through shots that had been stored away in his garage for years.
Before we left, Stan handed over most of the photographs for us to put into albums. There were a few treasured ones he held onto, like the one with his first car at age 19 and another from the early 60s with his gang on Hove beach.
Once home I eventually organised this sheer mass of memories by arranging them in some vague timeline order. The process was unexpectedly eyeopening. I was seeing the development of photography from the 1930s to the 1990s, sizes, colours and qualities. It was so interesting how domestic cameras came on the scene and the quality lessened dramatically. But despite the foggy results of the 70s and 80s, the technology enabled more families than ever to have the freedom to capture moments.
So looking through this timeline of memories got me thinking. No matter what medium we’ve used, historically us humans have always documented our lives in some way. Is this phenomena tapping into human connection?
Is making ourselves visible a fundamental requirement of human beings?
From early on humans told stories on cave walls. Through the centuries, paints and brushes were created so we could express our lives and experiences vividly. And thanks to further invention, photography came into our lives. We can look through these mediums and see history, stories documented. But why do we do this?
I wonder if the fundamental thing that we humans are encapsulating in time is “I was here!” “I saw this!” and “Hey, I exist!”. If so, making ourselves visible seems to be a fundamental human requirement.
Why is it so important to be seen?
It seems like we have this in-built desire to show the world what we have experienced. Look at young children for example. Have you noticed the phenomena that they love to perform to their family at any given opportunity? Early on we have this need to be seen, be visible. So as adults it’s no surprise that we still want to be noticed – “Hello, I exist!”. Perhaps the selfie is an off-shoot of this?
So these visible documents, our photographs, allow people to be visible to others and to the future.
But what about the viewer?
When you are looking at an image, what are you experiencing? Perhaps an opportunity to learn, enjoy, be disgusted or amazed. But very possibly something you will share with others. So then perhaps the viewer is given a story, we humans seem to love those too.
I believe each one of us has a story to tell and therefore potentially a story to share. Something about our lives can give someone else a nugget to two to learn from.
What’s my story?
Since I bought my own camera at age 16, I’ve always been fascinated with photographing people more than places and things. I realised recently, whether I’m photographing a baby, a business owner, an event or some street photography, that I’m learning something from my observation.
Over the years I’ve pervaded people’s spaces by simply photographing them.
My mum used to say that there’s a lot you can learn from just observing. She was talking about her fantastic culinary skills, but she’s totally right about how much you learn from just looking. As a photographer you are more of an observer, taking interest and giving that viewpoint to others. It’s kind of a weird inverted way of being visible.
So here it is, through looking at old photographs I have seen why I love to capture the visual story for people. With a deep curiosity of others, I look upon photography as capturing human connection. Us humans are fascinating and when you make a connection with another, it supersedes anything material this planet can offer.
The visual story is an entry point to a deeper story and I believe that it will always be that way.
Although social media brings the story well out of the cave, we must use it as an opportunity to connect authentically with like-minds.
Photos give us a record of how we are, who we were, and what part we play in the story of humanity. They contribute to human connection.
A new exciting publication…
Check out Sophie Sheinwald’s visual story book collaboration with international speaker and Sharing Economy expert Benita Matofska. Generation Share takes readers on a journey around the globe to meet the people who are transforming lives by building a Sharing Economy. Through stunning photography, social commentary and interviews with 200 change-makers, Generation Share showcases extraordinary stories demonstrating the power of sharing.
What I love.
I’m Sophie Sheinwald, and I love to help people become visible through photography. I see the power of human connection and translates this into my work. I’ve also been mentoring people who want to be more confident with their photography. If you’re interested in working with me do get in touch. You can see some more with lifestyle photography, brand stories and events.