Pinterest And The Perfect Picture

Here are some libraries on Pinterest: leather couches, wraparound staircases, hidden doors within the shelves. And then here is my personal library: crammed into and around a small bookshelf. My 20-month-old son regularly pulls books off the shelves and buries them beneath the couch, like a particularly nerdish squirrel. I’d like a hidden door also, but this is my library and this is my life.

Beautiful photography fuels Pinterest. The photos people choose, so gorgeously lit, are to real life what images of heaven used to be — harps, people cavorting on clouds, giving the illusion of a perfect and inclusive afterlife.

Heaven — or as this writer observed, “like the great, white, suburban dreamscape of the 1950s.”

My wife and I recently went on vacation with our son during what was Spring Break for many colleges. Before departing we viewed images of the hotel and destination, and it reminded us what Spring Break was like in our twenties. We enjoyed our vacation, but the photographs are not pin-able by most standards because they do not represent what Spring Break is supposed to look like.

I haven’t been able to muster the zeal so many others have for Pinterest. It seems complicated arranging all those photographs into categories, all that Internet minutia waiting to be properly pinned and pinboarded and re-pinned and liked and followed. Between Twitter and LinkedIn, I have my fill of imaginary friends; I have no room for an obsessive-compulsive subset. But it’s not the obsessive organizing I find curious; it’s the obsessive organizing of impersonal photographs.

The purpose of a photograph, the ones I keep in old boxes that manage to stick with me from apartment to apartment and closet to closet, is to render up nostalgia, of what was happening in my life at that time. I don’t want to digitally pin them into organized categories; I like them messy and creased and in a state of visual anarchy. I want my photos from the 80s to carouse with the photos from the 90s; I want the photo from my wife’s favorite day to accidentally stick to 12-year-old me toting a fresh cast; I want my cross-country traveler to mingle with my son’s one-year-old self in a hat that will embarrass him once he’s old enough to consider family photos un-cool. There is no such thing as a perfect picture regardless of how pretty they look sorted into pinboards. If it comes without flaws, it’s lying about something.

Previously: The DIY Office Exorcism

Jon Methven is the author of This Is Your Captain Speaking, due out in 2012 by Simon & Schuster. He can be reached here, or follow him on Twitter @jonmethven.