Did you ever realize how obsessed we are with taking the perfect photograph? We change our smiles, perfect our stances, and mediate backgrounds in order to give off the right vibe or coolest view. Yet, in reality, all we are doing is trying too hard to present ourselves in a “better light”. It is the stark opposite of the pictures we see from the 1920s and older, in a time when no one is brilliantly gawking out of the frame, but just staring at the camera lens unsure of what they should be doing.
As I pose for one of the many touristy pictures on my travels, I realize that I am constantly putting on my biggest smile. Granted, I am naturally a pretty smiley person, but I have to wonder if this is what I would like if someone captured the scene without my awareness. This seems to be a new trend in photography; one strives to catch a person in mid motion or during those moments when one is staring off into space or interacting with nature. Perhaps this is to show the world a “truthfulness” that is rarely seen in photography. However, even that is sometimes the most staged. How do you really catch the essence of a person in one second?
The impressionists tried- Cezanne painted the same mountain, Sainte Victoire, over 60 times but never produced two copies that were the same; even Vermeer attempted to catch women in a perfunctory, natural task in the series that contains his famous Girl With A Pearl Earring. If these great painters were struggling to capture the essence of humanity on canvas, how was I supposed to show myself through my inapt pictures?
All of this came out of an observation from my friend here in Edinburgh. She is the woman behind the precious Canon camera that constantly sneak attacks her companions in the fruitless attempt to get live shots. While in the Louvre, she was pondering the question of naturalness in art, comparing her photos of us to the greats. Yes, this was an unrealistic judgment from the start, however, it made us realize how complex it is to capture naturalness and pleasure at the same time. Perhaps this is what struck me most when looking at the most talked about painting in the Louvre- the Mona Lisa.
Before you rush through the hallways and past all of other Da Vinci works and countless other famous painters, you must know that Mona is not a large, looming figure. No, instead she is demure to a tee: her petiteness does not protrude from the inside her frame and her smile is one of perfect calmness. If you think that you are going to see a glittering, six-foot-tall portrait of the most beautiful woman on the planet, you are sorely mistaken. If that is what you are looking for, make your way over to Venus of Urbino or Botticelli. As Rita Hayworth used to say, “They go to bed with Gilda; they wake up with me”; don’t give into the preconceived notion of her greatness. Yet, feast your eyes on that painting which will undoubtedly make you smile.
Seeing Mona Lisa was like staring at a celebrity. Not only does she appear as if she is posing on the Red Carpet (merely behind a wall so we cannot see the lower part of her body), but she also holds herself to the standard of her fame. It is as if her admirers are the paparazzi screaming, “Mona, look here! Smile for me over this way! Show us those big beautiful eyes!” I would like to see how you would present yourself when being gawked at by thousands of people each day. The smile that the Mona Lisa gives to the audience is both knowing and pleasant; it says that she is content with the mystical landscape within which she has been placed and yet she has mastered her space so that she pops out of it just slightly. I can truly see why so many people rush to see her.