How Photography (and Facebook) Changes Everything

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I had to update my Facebook profile picture today. My hair no longer falls past my nose and I’ve got a new vest from Target. Plus, the last one was taken over two weeks ago. So much has changed in my life since then. As I look at the previous photograph, I don’t recognize myself. I’ve lost a bit of the cockiness I had felt at that moment.

Why do Facebook users choose to represent themselves the way they do? On good days, we post pictures of ourselves smiling, arms around the shoulders of our best friends or partners. On bad days, that smile is updated to become a vacant look, a simple acknowledgment that the camera is capturing our image.

Click!, an innovative new Website by the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, might answer that question. Photographs are powerful objects for change. They change who we are, what we remember, what we see, where we go, what we want and what we do, oftentimes in subtle ways.

Our Facebook portraits are like three-dimensional mirrors. Our image doesn't just stare back at us—we now have the power to manipulate it. How many times have you struck a pose intended for your Facebook page? The photograph that the social media user posts is essentially an act of reflection. It says, "This is who I see myself to be."

As that picture becomes public, that self-definition then becomes a shared conversation. The images are given additional meanings as our friends (and frenemies) inquire, "Are you ok…?", compliment, "You look beautiful :)", or criticize, "You are ridiculous!" Our photos become items of analysis, further shaping our online identities.

Click! invites the public to consider and share how photographs have changed their lives. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this experiment will prove it. To contribute to Click! submit an image, along with a short essay on how that photo changed you, influenced you, inspired you, or reflects a broader social-historical trend. Whether that image is a Facebook profile picture, on old birthday snapshot, a portrait from the 1800s, proof that you didn't deserve that parking ticket, or a close-up on the stars or a snowflake, it has significance. Click! leaves it up to contributors to find it.

Now, this isn't LOLcats. It's a Web 2.0 project with slightly higher standards, but the Click! staff will help shape your entry, sending back suggestions, and the best will be published on the site. The current content is already insightful and interesting, and is a great way to start thinking of ideas. To guide contributers, Click! also features themed submissions, such as March's focus on Women's History Month and an upcoming Astronomy theme.

The site had me thinking metaphysically about how I've come to regard the question: "Who am I?" Once a difficult subject, I can now just send people a link to my Facebook profile. The picture and information may be ever-changing, but at least it's accurate moment to moment. It's not much different from the yearly school or family portrait of decades past. What's changed with the Web and digital technology is the frequency we can create and share these representations.

Wow, all this critiquing has me worn out. Guess it's time to change my profile picture. I'll try to smile this time.

To join the photo-analytical fun or get inspired, sign up for the Click! e-newsletter or follow "The Bigger Picture" blog.

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