The Contact Sheet is a new book that “explores the process behind some of the most iconic photographs.” Behind every famous or infamous picture are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of images that the public never sees. The photographer’s contact sheet is a print of a whole roll or several rolls of film. In the days before digital cameras it was a cost-cutting measure that allowed the photographer or client a chance to preview many photos on one page without having them all printed out singly. A contact sheet tells an untold story whereas an individual photo is simply, well, a snapshot.
That’s got me thinking about how often we judge people based on one quick look, one passing moment. An angry driver on the roadway makes a rude gesture or panhandler asks for a dollar. We meet someone who comes off self-centered or rude. How accurate is that glimpse we get from such a brief encounter? And what about the people who get labeled based on a well-publicized but short-lived scandal? Maybe the individual is not a bad person but simply someone who has had a momentary lapse of judgment or is going through a rough time. Those first impressions are only a small part of a larger story. They are snapshots.
Last night I was at a dinner party with a group of people I didn’t know. One very nice lady came up to me with a big smile and said, “Hi, I’m Linda. Who are you and what’s your story?”
“What’s my story?” I said. “Well, that depends. How much time to you have?”
“Three minutes or less, if you please.”
How do you summarize your life in three minutes or less? Should I give her an elevator speech with all the things I’m most proud of? Do I whip out the family photos and tell about my wife and kids? I could say something funny or self effacing. There was an awkward pause as I considered my options. Fortunately, the person who brought me spoke up and gave a mini-resume, highlighting my accomplishments. Linda nodded approvingly and walked away. She got a snapshot version of who I am carefully selected from all of the available proofs.
Across from me sat Bruce. I didn’t learn until the end of the evening that he’s battling lymphoma and has been for some time. Imagine if someone had introduced him to me as “Bruce, who has cancer.” Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not usually how we want to be presented to others. Snapshots.
There’s probably no way to avoid all quick judgments of people. Fortunately, God knows us, really knows us—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and loves us anyway. We can pass on that love to others by being careful not to judge too harshly when we meet someone who is being difficult or unkind. And when we’re feeling particularly unlovely, we can remind ourselves that we are created in God’s image. We are his snapshots.