On Photography | Emma Zemlickova
Updated: May 28
When writing about photography, Susan Sontag (1977) writes that “a photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. Like a wood of fire in a room, photographs – especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the vanished past – are incitements to reverie.” This much is true. Photographs provide an escape, a way to defy the fickleness of passing time, and a way to have a physical image attached to an intangible memory that inevitably fades. The very act of taking a photograph validates nostalgia, consciously allowing us to claim a past reality. When we feel nostalgic, we take pictures. And when we take pictures, we are commemorating the present, anticipating its transformation into a yearned-for past.
Photography by Emma Zemlickova
As such, there is meaning to be found in every photograph taken with intention. It is not a matter of composition, lighting, subject matter, or focal point which makes it. Pressing down on the shutter is inherently subjective – we photograph what we consider to be of value. Personal taste and consciousness will always prevail, dictating the angle, exposure, and, ultimately, the timing of the moment chosen. As such, what matters most is the emotion that is trying to be eternalized – the present moment chosen to be deserving of preservation. The exact moment that we believed to be significant, beautiful, wonderful, extraordinary, bizarre, or rare enough to transform it into a pocket-memory, available to relive and reminisce upon. These are the things to contemplate when looking at photographs, visualizing the candidness of the moment. It is, after all, these subconscious qualities, and the recognition that no feeling or moment is final, which determine the nostalgic value of a photograph – and which cause it to be taken in the first place. Indeed, photography, in itself, is nostalgia.
Written by Emma Zemlickova
Emma is a second-year student at the LSE who finds simple joy in taking pictures of the friends, landscapes, and moments that make her happiest: Watching a sunset, going on a sunny hike, the beach, music, sunrises, and chilling in her living room with friends.
Photography by Salomé Melchior.