This has been possible with Photoshop and similar tools for years but Magic Eraser from Google makes it even easier: we can get rid of strangers in our photos. Should we?
My most Andy Rooney opinion, at least since the latest flare-up of the sleepover debate (I’m pro), is that we should not erase strangers from our family pictures. My original nuclear family’s albums, which my mother maintained in those classic 1980s scrapbooks with self-adhesive pages, annotating each image in her distinctive handwriting, are absolutely, positively chock-full of randos. When I was in elementary school, I loved to look at these pictures, hauling out two albums at a time and paging through them at our kitchen table. It was a time when I was becoming acutely aware of the difference between our family and others—not in a bad way, but in an interested one. We lived in a small town, and our family vacations gave us information about how things were elsewhere. I wasn’t going to pass up analyzing those clues.
The people we are around are also parts of our lives, even if we do not know them. To take pictures in public often means that others are present. We may not interact with them but we do not live in a world where we have our own bubbles and no one else is around.
There may be occasional times where removing strangers makes sense. Perhaps we want to focus on particular people or a particular scene. But, doing this at a larger scale always puts us at the center and makes it appear as other people do not exist.
Is this a continuation of the emphasis on the individual self? Social media, which is linked to the images we take, see, and use today, also encourages emphasizing ourselves. In images and a world where there is no one portrayed around us, we are at the center.
A future world where our pictures only feature us makes me think of Black Mirror or an extended global pandemic where streets and public places are empty. It would be a loss of our collective memories and the ways that we rely on nameless others every day.