We all know the age-old adage of “A picture is worth a thousand words.” However in days of social media, a photo is subject to its caption, tags, and the image we have created for ourselves. More often than not, this world appears rose-colored with a beautiful aesthetic.
And just like that, a photo is worth exactly 240 heart-warming, laughter-inducing, or envy-provoking characters- at least in Instagram preview mode.
As a photographer, I wonder why we have lost the honesty of the lens. Do we fear being judged? Of being labeled as a depressive? Where sharing photos of a night out drinking is not too intimate, but sharing images that evoke emotions of sadness, fear or loss is?
Suddenly we have created a world where it is more important to get "likes" than it is to be real. Our judgements and fear of judgement have forced even the most honest individuals to become skilled at perpetuating the preconceived notion that life online is beautiful.
In attempts to deconstruct this concept, I reposted on Facebook a photo I took a few months back with a more honest caption. I then challenged my friends and followers to take a more critical look at their posted images, and to share photos with me with their "original" caption, and a more raw "alternative" caption.
It was incredible to see what a hashtag and a space without judgement could do.
Some of their submissions nearly brought me to tears.
My first post
Instagram caption: "I think I just entered Narnia."
#alternativecaption: "My anxiety was pretty bad that day."
Facebook caption: " About to marry my future husband!"
#alternativecaption: "Heart broken inside because my beautiful Dad passed away from cancer and wasn’t able to walk me down the aisle like I had always dreamed."
Facebook caption: "Photo of a beggar child who followed me down from the Amber Fort."
#alternativecaption: "I was overwhelmed by the poverty and the abject aggression born of desperation for money in the children of Jaipur. I fled from this child as fast as I could because I couldn't face the sadness it inspired within."
Facebook caption: "Sailing around the Caribbean for a week.
#alternativecaption: "I miss you today. I wish we were sailing around the world."
Facebook caption: "Fresh flowers always look so beautiful on a wedding cake."
#alternativecaption: "This cake fell over in the car and smashed during delivery. Between tears I rebuilt the whole thing in 3 hours.
Thank God for fresh flowers."
Facebook caption: "A businessman makes his way in the rain in front of a billboard advertising the Shanghai World Expo."
#alternativecaption: "Over 1000 people were forcibly removed from their homes to make room for the Shanghai World Expo."
Instagram caption: "Weekend fun with my little one."
#alternativecaption: "At work, I'm constantly being faced with new information on more cases of babies being compromised by Zika."
Facebook caption: "Jimmy and Caro in Malawi, Africa."
#alternativecaption: "My homestay siblings in the Peace Corps, Jimmy and Caro, playing in the dirt outside of my hut. Jimmy would always look at me with these soulful eyes, partially distrustful. He hadn't seen too many Westerners or white people, and I felt like I had to earn his trust at 5 years old. He came hiking with me and my group once and looked out for me when I nearly slipped on a rock. I felt like we overcame the divide between us then. I doubt he still remembers me, but I think of him and his family often."
Facebook caption: "Mazel tov to my incredible wife and our brand new baby girl. Marni Rena born 12/24 430am. 7'10. Healthy and happy."
#alternativecaption: "I'm not sure I want to do this again. Too late."
Instagram caption: "Glamping in the Redwoods"
#alternativecaption: "I spent the evening sobbing over the fact that, despite many doctors appointments and needles and months of trying, my husband and I had not been able to get pregnant. Weirdly enough, in actuality I was (just barely) pregnant in this photo -- I would take a test a few days later and find out the good news. Then, a couple months later, I would lose the baby."
Facebook caption: "Breaking for stone"
#alternativecaption: "In Bangladesh, she gets paid 3 cents for every brick she breaks on the days she is healthy enough to work."
Gallery title: "Reflecting on autumn."
#alternativecaption: ""I am escaping a terrible marriage, falling for Jason, uncertain about my future, hopeful, fearful..."
Instagram caption: "Oh my. #Oregon #MtHood"
#alternativecaption: "This is the view from the home of some dear friends who have a twin daughter with cerebral palsy. I cannot imagine the challenges they face but am in awe of their love and dedication to both of their daughters."
Facebook caption: "At the Inn at Round Barn Farm."
#alternativecaption: "I personally didn't care for the particular historical/traditional implication of being "given" by one man to another like property, so my husband and I walked each other down the aisle. After all, I am not a goat!"
Facebook caption: "These beauties are ready for planting. #theearthlaughsinflowers"
#alternativecaption: "The outside of this home is beautiful with its brick walls, arches and English garden. What is not seen is the inside of this home where a family struggles in grief and despair as they watch their daughter and sister suffer without help from dysregulation and psychosis from her very severe, debilitating, and unrecognized mental illness called Borderline Personality Disorder. #whereisthehelpwhenyoureallyneedit? #stigmatized #isolated"
Instagram caption: "There is nothing better than this today"
#alternativecaption: "My father spent a week in the hospital with leukemia and we have been in Florida the whole time unable to see him. My 18 month old, who has been calling for 'Grandpa!' since we arrived 6 days ago, just saw him for the first time. She almost tipped the stroller over with excitement. My heart bursts with love and thankfulness."