By Phil Weir
When you look at old photos of long-gone family members, say, from around 100 years ago, and you examine them closely and meet their composed gaze as they stare out from the past, it is easy to understand how religions and cults based on ancestry worship sprang up.
Because of the long exposures needed at the dawn of photography and the fact that most of these shots in dusty old albums were taken in artificial studio settings, there is no sense of motion about them – motion frozen that is. In fact, the opposite is true. The rudimentary cameras back then were freezing moments that had already had time made to stand still under the instructions of the photographers, their subjects politely ordered not to move during the exposure of the plate, on pain of the desired image blurring.
So, in these antique portraits our great, great grandmothers and fathers just sit or stand there in the frame, beneath a fake arch and a painted backdrop, arrayed in their best clothing (for to sit for a photo back then was rare and special), their faces expressionless, their emotions in neutral, and their limbs in repose. All this makes them look fine and noble and in control. They seem to be looking at us from a higher place; a raised bench, at which they sit unassailable, passing down not a little judgment. They invite respect. They are like statues – household gods indeed, our inherited photo albums acting as portable altars to their memory.
It is hard not to revere them and search their unblinking and confident eyes for answers to the meaning of life, the universe, the starched collar, the whalebone corset and everything.
But what of the generation of today and their ‘frozen moments’ and how will they be viewed, 100 years from now, when their great, great grand kids delve into whatever will constitute family photo albums in the year 2114AD?
What will tomorrow’s oncoming ranks of descendants see when they browse their caches of old ‘snaps’?
Millions of flaming selfies – that’s what they’ll see!
Of course, there may be the occasional nicely posed individual and family portraits displaying some gravitas, but in the main, what will be clogging up the hard drives of the future will be cyber-skips full of shots of youthful versions of great, great grandad Dwaynne (two ‘n’s) and great, great granny Kissandraa (last ‘a’ silent) throwing all dignity and self-control to the wind in order to pull an endless string of ‘facies’ and strike extreme and clichéd poses mimicked from the worlds of entertainment or sport, by way of the celebrity media.
There will be lots of exaggerated pouting, as if to make lips look like pairs of stacked inner tubes from articulated lorries; there will be grinning in the manner of the hysterically insane; and there will be fake-anger grimacing and gnashing of teeth in the style of a chimp who’s just had his last banana snatched away by the Invisible Monkey (a close relative of the Invisible Man).
If the beloved ancestor in the photo is male, he will be standing arrogantly like he has just won the World Cup or slain a dragon. It is likely body parts will be exposed and a receptacle with alcohol spilling from it will be in view.
If the cherished ancestor is female, she’ll be standing with one leg nearer the camera slightly bent and the one further away straight, with one hand or both on her hip and a look in her eye that suggests she is about to hurry from the scene for an urgent appointment with a vertical chrome pole on a glitter-ball-lit dance floor.
Ninety-per-cent of the photos will have been taken before ‘a night out’, during ‘a night out’, or in the aftermath of ‘a night out’. The words suggested by them will be ‘out of control’, ‘meltdown’ and ‘post-apocalyptic’.
And it’s unlikely the 2114AD brigade will gaze upon these booze-collision collages with any reverence at all. Their thoughts are more likely to be along the lines of: “Holy, iPhone! What a self-obsessed and drunken rabble!”
Changed days, indeed.