You take out your camera, shoot a photo and like it. After a little post-processing you print two copies and send one to a friend. In a Mission Impossible Machiavellian twist, the photo self-destructs once they open it and, at the same time, so does yours.
If this sounds like a photographer's nightmare where an image is valued for the instant it is viewed before being discarded, then it is. And not just discarded by the viewer, but discarded permanently, never viewable again. Enter the world of Snapchat where the photo is the principle form of communication that you can add exotic embellishments to. Not only that, but you can Photoshop your face for that perfect look without the need for plastic surgery. Except in a mad modern twist where the imaginary world becomes reality, people are now having plastic surgery to look like their Snapchat filters.
As a photographer I go out of my way to record that decisive moment and, yes, there are times when I will want to share those images on social media. These might be uploaded immediately or after some post-production, but ultimately I want to curate a collection of images that I am proud of either as a photographer or a person.
It begs the question as to whether a disappearing image is worth capturing in the first place. Is the dopamine hit of sending or viewing a vanity-pic a valid photographic enterprise? In fact, why would you want to send an image that disappears? The Mission Impossible take is that it is too sensitive for others to view, either now or in the future, which would appear to support the sleazier side of the internet such as sexting or extramarital affairs.
Yet that isn't Snapchat's target market with potentially two other reasons as to why it might appeal. The first naturally follows-on from sexting and that is anything you say that might come back to haunt you in the future. You don't have to look far to find people who tweet in a moment of pique later to regret their actions. Snapchat mitigates that at least partially by automatically deleting your message. This is also a good way to be able to avoid targeted marketing. Facebook and Google know far more about our actions and preferences than we might be comfortable with if we knew the extent of it. Snapchat bypasses that information vault on our lives.
From a philosophical perspective, as photographers we discard virtually all potential images anyway — it's only the ones where we actually press the shutter button that are saved. Of course, in Snapchat we are actually creating them and spending time processing the image before sending and deleting them. This seems to be the antithesis of Instagram which is far more about creating a portfolio of imagery, albeit with an equally short shelf-life.
So where is the appeal in disappearing photography? As a community, do we see this as a viable future? Or is it purely a mainstream phenomenon that has little relevance to us? Ponder this for a moment though: if you had just taken a photo you really liked, would you be happy to delete it immediately after viewing it?