In today’s hyper-socialized and technological world, the need for personal documentation is at its most critical. With the advent of social media and mobile devices that lie within the hands of the public, our ability to capture reality no longer lies within the arms of the men of the West, nor the intellectuals and the elitist world of academia. No, today, the 9-to-5 workers, the one-percent trust fund kids, the single mother with more responsibilities than she can handle, and the socially conscious undergraduate filmmaker all have access to telling their own story of a social reality and can broadcast it to the world at large.
Though these principles of self-documenting the socio-cultural reality of the world became prevalent with the commercialization of flexible 35mm film and the 8mm home movie camera, today there is little reason to why we shouldn’t document our reality at this moment. Yet, there is one form of documentation with a certain quickness and informal nature that helps reach truth in its purest form.
The snapshot: a simple form of photography that involves a miniscule amount of preparation and freezes the world one frame at a time. It is a form that works as a synapse for capturing reality and gives contextualization to moments in our life that may or may not have any significant relevance to the past and future. Medium format cameras gave birth to this idea, polaroids gave us instant access to it, and the selfie ingrained our life within snapshot -- carrying it with us wherever we go. It is not limited to photography now and has emerged as anew in the form of video applications that include YouTube, Vine, Snapchat, etc.
I believe that this form of self-documentation -- exemplified in the works contained within this piece of writing -- have intrinsic value to telling our story of humanity, our story of time, our story of the reality.
It is important to recognize the feminist theorists and ethnographic filmmakers -- i.e. Maya Deren, B. Ruby Rich, Trinh Minh-Ha -- that have touched on this idea of exposing reality. But I believe that their work relies too heavily on a critique of the cinematic form, rather than living and creating through cinema and the reality of everyday life. Deren’s work, as with much of the work within feminist ethnographic film, ingrains itself within the mantra that “the personal is political” and is created through the unity of subjectivity and subject matter (Geller, 140). Although this ideology is very useful during the conception and reflection of a cinematic project, it lacks attainability within reality at that moment and distances itself from the act of creation.
Deren notes in the preface for An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film that the role of creation, which includes self-documentation, involves some form of repressing the past in order to come to terms with the socio-political aspects of life. She says: “In my case I find it necessary, each time, to ignore any of my previous statements. After [Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)] was completed, when someone asked me to define the principle which it embodied, I answered that the function of film, like that of other art forms, was to create experience -- in this case a semi-psychological reality,” (Deren, 5-6).
Contrary to what the preface says, Deren continues to distantiate herself from the past in order to seek a higher truth through film, but subsequently pigeon holes her work into an ideology that becomes convoluted and an illegible form of reality for the public. By doing so, what was supposed to be a personal medium separates itself from any socio-political reality. Thus, in the context of Deren’s later work, the personal and political become mutually exclusive.
Working off this ideology, I believe that through the snapshot’s form the personal becomes political and the self-documentation of everyday life creates contextualization for this political and social reality that is intrinsic each of with our own personal narratives.
The snapshot, which is not limited to the latest phone applications, is the most powerful and subsequently political form of documentation we have at our disposal today. The ease of its creation and accessibility allow for people all over to tell their story and formulate a reality frozen in the moment that fills the gap between subjectivity and subject matter left untouched in the work Deren and others. And by living within these moments of creation, given proper context and/or acknowledgement by the documentarian and public, the snapshot transforms from a personal artifact into a document of socio-political reality. The snapshot becomes a catalyst of personal reality that extends beyond politics and traditions of ethnography, cinema and theorization.
I urge that we go out into the world and use our social tools to take snapshots of reality. Pull out your phone and film injustice. Take your friends camera and create a 10-minute artistic masterpiece. Capture the loved ones that surround you. Dig through your parents’ closets and pull out the old 35mm cameras. Create works of art to be held as a print in your mother’s hand or to be digitized for the public. Rework the feminist ethnographic film of the past to create a new movement for today. Extend your views through and beyond pixels and celluloid.
The snapshot can and must be used by the people of the world. Capturing moments of interpersonal reality bridge the gap between our lives and help create a collective conscious that tackles the trials and tribulations of life. And without the snapshot, we are losing an unconscious form of reality that transcends beyond the present and tells our story of the world.
The snapshot is the people’s voice for the world and our voice must not be silenced.
- Geller, Theresa L. "The Personal Cinema of Maya Deren: Meshes of the Afternoon and Its Critical Reception in the History of the Avant-Garde."Biography 29, no. 1 (2006): 140-58.
- Deren, Maya. An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film. Yonkers, N.Y.: Alicat Book Shop Press, 1946.