The Banality of my Singularity

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Nowadays, food is probably one of the most common items photographed. On photo-sharing websites and personal blogs, food photos run rampant. I myself am often guilty of taking these photos. I always try to justify my many photos by telling myself that whatever I plan on ingesting (be it frozen yogurt, a sandwich, bubble tea, etc.) is going to be so monumentally amazing that I must commemorate the moment. But really, part of the appeal of food photographs is that they’re so convenient and common. They don’t have to have perfect composition but if they do, then even better. They’re fun to look at and look back upon.

In Camera Lucida, Barthes mentions that every photograph has “two voices”; one voice is the “voice of banality (to say what everyone sees and knows)” and the other voice is the “voice of singularity (to replenish such banality with all the élan of an emotion which belonged only to myself)” (Barthes, 76). In my photo, the voice of banality rings out with the cellophane wrapped sandwich and bottle of sparkling juice that sit so plainly upon the table. Everyone can see these items and though it could be debatable whether or not everyone knows these specific items, they are probably recognizable. To other people viewing this image, the food may not have much meaning, the photograph might be declared “banal” and shuffled aside for more fascinating images. For me though, this image has been infused with so many emotions and memories that I don’t even feel ashamed to have taken this food photograph. This photograph is a reminder of an incredible summer afternoon during which my friends and I stumbled across a vintage shop with an eccentric owner who scoured eBay and estate sales for the treasures in her shop. This photograph is a reminder of us, discovering the corner grocery store and cafeteria that sold food that was the perfect blend of health and taste, and wanting to buy everything in sight. This photograph is a reminder of soy sauce monsoons, chopstick walrus tusks, and laughter that led to tears but would not stop.

For anyone else, it would evoke different emotions and memories. Even for the friends who accompanied me on this adventure, this photograph might not carry the same meanings for them that it does for me. The one emotion that forms the voice of singularity in my photograph is a mixture of nostalgia, happiness, excitement, and determination. I wish I had a name for it, but the more I think about it, the more I realize I don’t need one. I have more than enough already to capture all of these thoughts and feelings. I have this photograph.

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