What Do Photos Mean to Us?

Our smartphones let us snap pictures of anything from a coat check ticket (in case we lose it), to the same sunrise we watch on the way to work each morning. The simplicity and instant gratification of smartphone photography makes overlooking the significance of photo taking easy to do. If you stop to think about it, you begin to wonder. What makes pictures important? What power do they have? Why capture moments in still time at all?

Photos allow us to construct identities.

In a portrait we are who we want to be. We have the power to shape how a viewer perceives us. We might even discover things about ourselves we hadn’t known before. This act of constructing augments self-awareness and confidence, allowing us to not only discover ourselves, but also the world around us.

A photo of a child beaming with a textbook in his lap or sprinting ahead on the soccer field has the power to cultivate pride within a family and a sense of self within the young subject. It conveys meaning and value, reminding the boy or girl of his or her individuality and importance in the world. A photograph serves as a tangible record of our childhood – a time in our lives that which we often undervalue until it has passed us by.

Looking at photos from the past allows us to construct a narrative of our lives. We can see who we were in the moment captured, and compare it to who we are today. Photos can mark time and accentuate change. They make physical, mental and emotional progress tangible. A photo encapsulates so much more than a simple physical representation – it captures body language, feeling, and relationship with the photographer.

These not-so-obvious elements of a photo are instrumental for emotional development.

Self awareness, confidence, self-exploration and pride are all things children need to experience as they grow into the people they want to become. A photo captures and constructs these elements, giving them a record to reflect on.  

I have thousands of photographs of myself growing up, with my family, at school, at home, and traveling. They give new life to situations and experiences that hide in the dusty corners of my memory. I depend on them to always be there, accessible when a reminder is needed most.

We consume millions of photos of other people while scrolling through social media. Our lives are saturated with pictures, and which makes it easy to sometimes lose sight of their significance. It takes a step back to remind ourselves of just how powerful powerful photos can be and how fortunate we are to have them.

The children that Project Picture Day captures often have never been photographed before. For these boys and girls, a photograph is not just a reflection at that moment in their life, but something that will become an object of reflection and pride as they look back on the history of themselves. From the smiles on their faces when they receive the photos, I know they understand the power of a picture.

To see their smiles, check out the video from our last trip to the Philippines.

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