Wednesday, January 30, 2008

George Stroup and The Incoherence Of Our Photo Albums

For the past few weeks I’ve been wrestling with a narrative theology lecture. It has been dragged out for too long. My constant returns for short periods of time have produced some fine insights and new directions for thought.

For some time I have been wondering about the truthfulness of our photography. The digital age has allowed us to greatly manipulate, down to the pixel, our appearance and surroundings. While this has always been part of the photographic process in the darkroom, it has become common place to whiten ones teeth or remove unsightly blemishes. And I wonder, how true are these photographs?

Furthermore, how true are our photo albums? Are they a collection of truths? Half-truths? Lies? What about those images which seem to disappear over time from those pages? Moments, places, people vanish as if into a black hole. What happens to the photos of family black sheep? the divorced? the ex-girl/boyfriend? the friends which betrayed us? Have they disappeared from our memory as well as our photo albums? I really think that our photo albums portray a sanitized version of our history. Indiscretions removed. Faces torn out. Images burned in ritual sacrifices.

Tonight, as I was reading through George Stroup’s The Promise of Narrative Theology: Recovering the Gospel in the Church I ran across a section where he discusses self-deception. He states, “Self-deception is not so much an event or deed as it is a description of the incoherent way a person lives in relations to the past and in anticipation of the future. it is not a momentary indiscretion, a lapse of memory, or a mental error, but a…self covering policy, which generates a more or less elaborate cover story. Self-deception is a discrepancy between the past and what a person says about the past, and in incoherence between how a person actually lives in the world and the account that person offers to other” (127).

Our photo albums become another way for us to tell our stories…to recount our past. And yet, if we are manipulating moments digitally or by the sheer removal of certain places, events, and people, we begin to tell a different story about us. In culling our photographs of the embarrassing or unglamorous images we are cultivating a discrepancy between the ideal (as shown) and reality (that which has been censored). We cultivate an incoherent story of ourselves.