Monday, March 1, 2010

The Happiness Report - Part 1

As good as many of the pictures are that have been sent in, I've been equally interested in people's explanation of their choices. So here are a few of my favorites for now, along with what the contributors have written.

Above from Janice McLean of Ontario:

For me, it's a book. Whenever I even spy the spine of Phillipe Halsman's Jump Book in my bookcase, a wave of happiness washes over me. Love the concept, love the subjects, love the photographer.

From Joseph Holmes:

As soon as I read your description of the project, one image jumped immediately to mind. I took this photo of my daughter Sophia on our family's trip to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico two years ago, and it brings such warmth to my heart that I framed a large print and gave it to my wife as a gift.

Sophia was a joyful child right from birth, and here she was in our hotel room in San Miguel jumping from one bed to the other and then to the window, back and forth over and over again. Which might be typical for a 6- or 7-year-old, but is certainly unusual in a 13-year-old. Her joy radiates out of that photo so strongly that I feel it every time I look at the picture. Which is often.

From Julia Wideman:

This is a portrait I snapped of three friends while I was dressed up as Andy Warhol this past Halloween.

It is particularly happy for me because it represents all the fun (and comedy) that is this holiday in New York City. We've got a child's cartoon character, a hot dog, and a vampire all in one frame. It is also special because it represents the surprises that occur when shooting film. The surprise here was that I caught them just at that exact moment of laughter and it made the image much more meaningful.

From Ula Rakusova:

Find attached a photo of our dog I took a couple of weeks ago. After read your blog post, I thought of her; the slight smile (she really can raise the corners of her mouth and smile) and the pink nose make my day and epress her happiness. I didn't caption the photo, but I just call it 'The Pink Nose'.
Best regards from Europe,
PS. The dog's name is Arisu.

From Dave Woody:

An image by Garry Winogrand always makes me think of the William Blake line... "Exuberance is Beauty".

And from Cherie Bender who coincidentally had photographed Twinka at about the same time as Cynthia MacAdams (who I just wrote about) :

I met Twinka while in California and photographed her in Yosemite. It was such a happy and free time and I also met Imogene Cunningham; this slide captures the sunlight and fragility of the moment... I had some great shots in black and white film which was stolen along with all of my photo equipment from my bungalow while I visited with the Ansel Adams family. They very kindly let me stay in their house after that in Yosemite because I was so young and scared!


I also e-mailed a few colleagues in the photo world this request:

I posted an item on my blog about photographs depicting happiness and it started me thinking - when did the two become conjoined? Obviously there was little smiling in early photography because of the technical limitations. But was it faster shutter speeds or social factors that made capturing happiness such a part of photography?

What do you think about photographic depictions of happiness?

Would you mind sharing your thoughts?

From Paul Fusco:

The first thing that came to mind was the Kodak Brownie camera. I guess it was the first point and shoot. When I was a kid many families had them. Extremely simple and limited and used mostly to gather pretty ordinary things about daily life and things families did together. I remember lots of photos prefaced by "Okay, everybody look here and smile". Click. The photos were almost always for the family, to show and remember what we did. Maybe the semi formality and the permanence of the snapshot made us feel we had to be nice and friendly and happy.

From Martin Parr:

Not much to say on this, but delighted you are putting on V Sassen. I think she is great and am showing her at the Brighton Photo Biennnial.

Will drop in in March to see it.

From Peter Galassi, Chief Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art:

Well, you could say photo is pretty well linked to misery, too. But like so many other aspects of what we think of as essential to the medium, the dry plate is probably the culprit: it slashed exposure times + put a camera in the hands of everyone

From Jeff Rosenheim, Curator, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Here's what initiallly comes to mind about the shutter speed/social factors issue:

In our Southworth & Hawes collection, there are numerous full-plate daguerreotype portraits depicting men and women seemingly happy and somewhat smiling. You can see them all on line through our web feature on the collection. The firm did make great advances increasing the sensitivity of the plates, thus reducing the exposure time. Please note, however, this is not a matter of shutter speed, but "effective" film speed. Of course, daguerreotypes are not exactly film, but you know what I mean.

The social factors influence is quite complicated to analyze and I will need several years to cogitate on the matter. I'd look at Leonardo's Mona Lisa as a starting point to any discussing of smiling in art.

From Philip Gefter, Writer.

You're right in terms of the technical limitations that prevented authentic, immediate or spontaneous smiling since exposures were so long. My first thought, though, is that Julia Margaret Cameron tried to "represent" happiness in her beatific portraits. Then Lartigue showed it in his lyrical pictures of his upper-class family and friends enjoying moments of leisure activity. All to say that the smile alone is not the only visual indication of happiness; mood, gesture, attitude, and activity seem to contribute to the idea. My two cents off the top of my head.


Joe Holmes said...

David Hockney, in his book Secret Knowledge, links the depiction of spontaneous laughter in paintings to the development of camera lucida (and later, camera obscura) techniques.

These techniques used lenses, allowing painters to quickly capture fleeting facial expressions. Hockney uses the sudden appearance of natural expressions of laughter in the mid-1600s as a main piece of evidence to pinpoint the date these techniques were first used. His book is fascinating and, at least to me, totally convincing.

But the theory is very similar to yours: expressions of happiness are so fleeting that we have to wait for technology to reach the point where they can be captured.

Letterpress said...

I wanted to post a photo of my children in one of the pictures that makes me happy, but the grading rut trapped me and I couldn't get to it. So I'm happy this morning to take a look at other's photos and comments. Interesting take from both sides of the photo world--the amateur and the professional. I learned some new things this morning (and enjoyed some great photos)--thanks.