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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A Happy Post for Happy People

Six Attempts to Catch a Blackberry or Six Attempts to Take a Picture (but not both). 

"I've got my happy face on today." (from Strictly Ballroom)

It's strange how one remembers things without being aware on any conscious level of why one remembers or how one remembers. And how much we cack about it without really getting into the nitty gritty of what happens cognitively. This is especially true of photography where anything relating to memory kicks off with mumblings about Barthes' mother and the piercing effect of death. I like Barthes quite a lot, but death is more than piercing. It's deadly! It kills you! And not just Barthes' mother! It got Barthes too and you better watch out, because it's out to get you too.

Perhaps it might be good to reach elsewhere for our ideas on photography, outside the small, incestuous world of  photo-theory so that we can add to and enrich our understanding of how images work with added engagement and added interest. Today, cognitive and social psychology might be good places to start.

One basic cognitive idea is that of mood congruence - this means that you remember happy things when you are happy and sad things when you are sad. There's also mood dependence; this is where you are more likely to retrieve happy memories when you are happy and sad things when you are sad.

Mood dependence is a basic foundation in so many branches of photography - think of the family album, travel or advertising for example. What are all those happy lifestyle pictures for if not to bring a little joyfulness and play into our otherwise miserable lives.

And then you get the familiarity effect; we like things we are familiar with. So that gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling. The idea is that the more you see it, the more you like it. Even when you don't realise it. Especially when you don't realise it.

So what about all those boring pictures?  You know the ones I mean. When are those made? When the photographer is feeling bored? And when are they best viewed? When the viewer is feeling bored? Oh, I hate to say it, but I think that might be the case. But maybe that's why we seem to like them so much, because they are so familiar and they connect to those many times we are in a boring place feeling bored, eating boring food and drinking boring drinks with boring people...

Oh God, I can hear myself droning on there. See how that works. Think boring things and suddenly the whole mood infects you. And that's how photography works!

I can't help but feel that there is also an element of the false memory (more of which in a different post) and wish fulfilment in there as well. The idea that when we see those happy pictures, we remember them and feel that those happy times will come again.

So here's looking forward to a proper summer again...


Stan B. said...

You're not thinking of skipping town just yet, are ya?

colin pantall said...

How did you know? I hear bunnies in the field. And that can only mean one thing...