Thursday, March 28, 2013

From Inanity To Insanity and Back


The modern state of photography– which is digital from end to end– has become a ubiquity, transforming it from the exclusive province of a few dedicated professionals and passionate amateurs to something entirely different. The capture of photographic images is now everywhere, at all times, and for every purpose– sometimes even for no purpose at all. I suspect (though I haven't actually seen credible estimates) that the number of photographic images captured in just the past five years has probably exceeded the total number of photographs recorded in the previous one hundred and eighty years.  Niepce could never have imagined where this technology would go when he gave birth to it at his French country estate in 1827.

We hardly even think about taking photographs anymore, it has become such a natural and almost automatic act. See something that interests you?– just lift your phone from your pocket, touch its screen, and voila– there it is! Touch the screen again, and there it is on Facebook for all the world to see and marvel at (or maybe not, if it's a photographic record of what you are having for lunch).

Want to see that image in some more "artistic" manifestation of itself?  No worry– you no longer need access to an expensive and difficult-to-master chemical/silver darkroom, or even some excessively high-priced photographic software package. You can simply use the freely-downloaded "app" that already exists in the same phone you took the photo with. Simply touch your screen a couple more times and, for absolutely no monetary (or even temporal) cost, you can be an instant Brady or Adams or Cartier-Bresson. Or so you think.

Photo of me taking a photo of me in the mirror
taking another photo of me in another mirror
The democratization of the photographic arts and sciences is, I believe, a very good thing overall. It has (or will soon) put the amazing power of photography within the palm of nearly person on the face of this earth. This is bound to result in some incredible art that never would have existed otherwise. But I am wondering if all of this instant photographic gratification is taking a toll on our ability to really "see" the world around us, on our capacity to truly experience and enjoy this world.

Holding a camera and intentionally aiming it at something in the world forces us to see in a different way. It is this alternate vision that is the basis for the art of photography. But it is possible to have too much of this good thing. A few years back I realized that I almost always had a camera at the ready– I just didn't want to leave open the possibility of missing that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Those unusual moments when I didn't have my camera with me I would look around me and be thinking– "Oh no!... just look at that!...if only I had my camera, what a shot that would make!"  I found myself elevating the art (or potential art) over the reality from which it was derived.

Since that time I have resolved to take periods of time away from the camera– and away from the desire and compulsion to produce art– and to come back into direct and intimate contact with the real and vibrant world around me. These are times I seek to lay aside my drive to create in order to simply relax and enjoy the real Creation. These usually prove to be times of refreshment and preparation for a whole new (and unexpected) direction in my creative pursuit.

If you happen to find yourself taking photographs too frequently, too casually, or maybe too compulsively, think about taking a break from it all. Lay your camera aside for a while, or hey, you might even lay your phone aside, and find yourself rediscovering an older and deeper way of experiencing the world.  Try it, you'll like it!
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A note to my readers— you may have noticed that my fairly regular (weekly?) blogs have been missing for a couple, no, a few months. Multiple factors (extended business travel, and a physical injury making typing difficult) conspired to knock me off my routine.  Putting the blog off for over a month soon became habit. But I am "back in the saddle" now and ready to ride again.

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