A Review: “The Photograph” And The Appreciation Of Stillness.


I’m a sap.

Therefore, this review is going to be sappy.

Light on the review, heavy on the sap, but still not recommended reading if you haven’t seen the movie.

Warnings and disclaimers out of the way, “The Photograph”, starring Issa Rae as Mae and LaKeith Stanfield as Michael Block, was a love story for the ages.

Mae and Michael were brought together by their work. Michael, a writer for a newspaper, was doing research for an article. He scheduled to meet with Mae, an assistant museum curator, hoping she could be a resource. Upon seeing each other, Micheal became interested in more than getting information and asked Mae out on a date. Though nervous to accept, Mae said yes.

What followed were the gentle moments when two people meet and realize they are attracted to each other. On their first date, casual conversation led to a sensual first kiss that said more than any words they spoke during their time together. The movie then chronicles their journey of figuring out how to be together.

There were some key aspects to this film that made it special.

First, the movie showed the journey of Mae’s mother Christina (played by actress Chante’ Adams) alongside Mae. Flashbacks to Christina’s life would coincide with where Mae was in the story. Christina did not have the best of luck with her love interests, in part for perhaps selfish reasons, and Mae throughout the film spoke about her fear of ending up like her mother and not being “good at love”.

We are all products of our childhood environment. The traits of those that raised us and the nature of the environment we grew up in heavily informs our relationships as adults. For some of us, we repeat the same actions and decisions made by those that raised us, at times unknowingly even, because of the strong influence our upbringing has on us. Though it would have heightened the impact to see more exploration into Mae’s relationship with her mother, parental influence on dating is an aspect of love story depictions that is too often missed. It can be appreciated that “The Photograph” included this in the film.

For Mae, she knew how much like her mother she was, particularly the part of her mother that was flawed when it came to dating. There was also a slight cruelness Christina carried, yet Mae was never overly critical of her mother, nor was there ever severe blame on Mae’s part. The film handled this mirroring of Mae’s life with her mother’s life lovingly and with care.

Secondly, the stillness of the story telling was brilliant and alluring. The story line moved with the pacing of a poem. It was several parts of a beautiful, single moment. Drama that could have been heightened remained calm. Disagreements that could have turned into a loud argument were gentle in their resolve yet still created heartwarming anticipation.

A few days ago I saw murmurings of “boring” in some takes on the movie. Having now seen it for myself, I can unfortunately see the reasoning behind why some may pass that judgement on the film.

People have become severely acquainted with love and drama being inextricably tied to each other. Disagreements must turn into loud arguments for there to be love. Drama around exes and potential cheating can only cause physical fights for there to be a relationship. Dysfunction has become par the course for love stories.

We have become so accustomed to love being depicted as a melee, that anything of normalcy is cast aside as “boring”.

It’s reality TV or bust.

Though “The Photograph” is not a “black film”, the all black cast will draw a mostly black audience. While I’d like to think we as black viewers can walk and chew gum at the same time, I’m afraid of this film receiving a lukewarm reception because of negative messaging about love that has been marketed to us through media, or has been displayed in some of our own family lives.

I’d like to think we can take in a “Love & Hip Hop” and at the same time appreciate a beautifully shot and directed film like “The Photograph” while not labeling the latter as “boring” because it lacks the scripted antics misconstrued as “reality” that we have become accustomed to viewing, or because it doesn’t have the drama of romantic relationships we may have witnessed growing up.

Art can look like nothing we’ve seen or have become used to, and it can still be art.

Just because there was no extreme back and forth or no “shaking of the table” in no way deems this film boring. The on screen chemistry between Issa and LaKeith’s characters was palpable when necessary, and soft when necessary. There were quiet moments where Mae and Micheal would simply look into each other’s eyes, not speaking a word. The power in nonverbal communication spoke volumes in these instances.

Don’t get me wrong here. I appreciate action and intensity, and I know all good relationships come with a certain level of intense disagreement. Love is not all beauty and flowers and fun. It’s not always soft and still. It’s messy and dirty and can be dramatic. It can also be particularly hard when we don’t take into account how our personal life experience plays into our relationships.

There are stages in all of our connections with people. Be it friendships or partnerships, they all have a beginning, a middle, and ultimately an end.

“The Photograph” took a close look at the beginning of a relationship. The giddiness of a crush. The wanting to see someone after just leaving their presence. The piqued curiosity about another person. The wanting to be with someone even though it may not seem “practical”.

I mentioned stillness earlier and I think the welcoming of that is something we are missing in this era of our lives. We are always on the go. We have to “#RiseAndGrind”, and we have to be “#TeamNoSleep”. In all this hustling for the gram or to impress people or for what ever reason, we miss the quiet moments.

We miss the silence of waking up in the morning and the sound of our breath anew.

We miss the stillness of looking into the eyes of our partner. We miss the magic in touching their skin, or the calmness we can find in their embrace, or the familiarity we can feel in the sound of their voice.

“The Photograph” shows that love can be every bit as intense in it’s quietness and stillness as it can be in it’s loudness.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store