Sometimes – even as I move downstream through the ‘infinite scroll’ of social media – an image catches my eye and I immediately know that I love it. Less often, closer inspection leads to that image becoming one of my favourites. This is a story about one such image; an instant favourite.
I find that more often than not, the images I like best are those of the subject caught in motion1. The perfect photo is something of a miracle in these instances. It transcends a lack of movement in the image by suggesting the time passed and the time to come. Of course, video can show us the moments before and after a critical, focal moment, but a still image can – if it is captured not a moment too soon or too late – be more powerful than such a video. For while a video relays reality as it happened, the perfectly-timed still image outsources the construction of contextual reality to our imagination.
Such is the case with this image of Australian tennis star Ash Barty preparing for her first match at this year’s Australian Open:
“Australians are hungry for sport. They love it. They’re addicted to it…they’re looking for an Australian player, in particular, to go deep and have a really good run.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 14, 2019
Here we see several suggestive cues all at once. We know where she is – the Australian Open logo is on the bench. We know she is removing her jacket rather than putting it on – note the way she grips it and the position of her arms. She has just arrived.
The professionally-folded towels and the fact that she has yet to remove any gear from her bags reinforce the idea that the match has not yet started. She is thinking of the future, not reflecting on the past. Her face on the video board suggests that she is being introduced. She’s an Australian – this is her “home” grand slam. We can feel her nerves.
The cameraman is visible on the right edge of the frame. His would be an awkward presence in many other cases but here – encroaching on an otherwise intimate photograph of a private moment – he reminds us that many people are watching. The intimacy of the moment is an illusion; a fallacious perception.
Somebody was going to win. Somebody was going to lose. People were going to be watching. Many of them were her countrymen and women. Many of these viewers would have seen live video of this moment.
Me? I’ll stick with the reality this perfect photograph prompted me to construct.
P.S. She was the somebody who won.