It is quite common that the Wedding Photographer runs the Wedding. The photographic record becomes more important than the event itself. Sometimes it almost seems as if the whole thing is staged just to get good photos, like a fashion photoshoot. If the weather is wrong on the day, the photos may have to be redone later.
Not only does the photography affect the event that it is supposed to record, it also affects the memory of the event. All people at the event will have memories, but the repeated viewing of photos over time reinforces the photos as the bigger memory, so that memories only held in your head become less significant. When there is no one left in living memory of an event, the photos become the only record, apart from handed down stories.
I recently saw two photos of Bath in the Blitz of 1942 that looked very realistic. On second glance, you could carefully make out that it was exactly the same people in both, but at slightly different places, adjacent streets in fact. Which was odd, because the two groups of people were not travelling at the same speed, and the photographer would have had trouble taking his photo, then racing up the street to get ahead of them for the next photo. My guess is that these photos were staged, but they represent a historic record nonetheless. How much of our history record is staged?
We think that a photo is a record, but any sort of observer always affects the event. People are conscious of being recorded or watched, and their behaviour, their dress, their facial expression will change accordingly. The observer or recorder is a participant. The threat of a permanent photo is an almost daily feature of our lives nowadays, everywhere you go there are cameras of some sort, CCTV, mobile phones etc. Even in our homes we have cameras on our computers. And nowadays the photo could be beamed out on the Internet. How is that subtly affecting what we do?
In schools, hospitals, and elsewhere, there is much assessment these days. Like the Wedding Photographs, I sometimes wonder if assessment has become the main purpose of schools. It is another form of watching, observing, taking a snapshot. Data and records are more important than the education itself. Assessment is supposed to be a non-invasive record of what is happening, what progress is being made, how the school or individual compares against others. But the assessment ends up running the show.
For example, kids who are going up three levels in Maths one term are expected to do the same the following term. Otherwise it’s the teacher’s fault. The eventual effect is that no one will go up three levels any term because they won’t want the pressure to repeat the achievement! Therefore achievement could well be lowered in the long term. I also notice that kids are very conscious of using words or expressions in essays that will get them the most points, the best assessment, and this has become more important than exploring new ideas, or even acquiring knowledge. Assessment has taken over.
And like the Wedding Photographer, the teachers have to frequently stop the actual teaching and learning, and instead spend lots of time and energy getting the kids organised for the all important, obligatory assessment.
The Wedding Photographs may turn out to be stunning. But they are not a complete record at all. Maybe not even an accurate record. There will be lots that has not been recorded, possibly the most interesting stuff is missed out. And I think school assessment is the same, it only records a very narrow band of activity, which is carefully planned for the purpose of the assessment.
I guess it’s possible to have weddings without a photographer, where the only record is people’s memories, or the dress hanging in the cupboard. They might even be better events as a result! And do we need all this assessment in schools? The staff, parents and children all KNOW who is good at what. They don’t need loads of statistics. And maybe schools would be better places without it. They would certainly have more time and money to spare.