IF YOU’VE SPENT any time at all sifting through the #arkansas hashtag on Instagram, you’re likely familiar with the well-established categories of popular photographs: There are photos of sunsets, photos of cute dogs, cute kids, cute families, photos of waterfalls, photos of good Southern fare, and—oh goodness—the selfies and ads. If you were keeping an eye on the feed back in July 2018, however, you would’ve seen a different visual theme start to emerge, thanks to the photos posted by @barrielynnbryant. These were photos that seemed as if they’d come from a different era, both in terms of subject matter and medium. Many of them were black and white, or sepia-toned, pointing to a time before such color choices were determined by adding a digital filter.
For that reason, they stood apart from the broader visual fray—in the mix, yet separate from it. In this way, they seemed to touch on a broader truth about photographs in general. The truth is that when you isolate images, keeping the focus on a select few, you give them room to take on added significance. You wonder more about them, ask questions about the people and their stories and where they came from. They become personal, meaningful. But they don’t have to be found photos from the mid-’90s for that to be true.
In considering the people who appear in those candid photographs—a collection that is personal in more than one sense, as you’ll read on page 31—I find my thoughts drifting to a somewhat unexpected place: namely, to the photographs that have cycled through places of prominence on our family’s freezer door over the years. At the moment, there are wedding invitations and save-the-dates from friends and family. In the past, there have been Christmas cards, baby photos and wedding photos. For months now, there’ve been a pair of school-picture-day photos from when my wife and I were very young (one of us was not especially keen on picture day, apparently*), and they’ll be there for months to come, I’m sure.
I mention those fridge photos for one reason in particular: It’s not difficult to imagine them—any of them, no matter their personal significance, no matter how close they are to my heart—being part of social media’s visual clutter. Not because they’re especially Instagrammy, but because most any image on social media, save the ads, could tell a story if you’d only ask. (I’d recommend turning to page 10, where we’ve highlighted a few such photos.) No matter what a given photograph shows—its composition, its tonality, its subject matter—it’s all part of the visual record. It’s all a part of us.