On Photography

“Today everything exists to end in a photograph.”1

I had no climbing shoes, no chalk, no crash-pad, I was on a casual stroll with my friends at Slide Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona.  Sprouting from the middle of this red rock canyon cleavaged by the Oak Creek is a large grey boulder that seems entirely out of place.  I was thoroughly unprepared to climb, but when I saw the rock I kind of needed to give it a go.

Slide Rock State Park is loaded with tourists, and it’s no wonder why.  The place is stunning.  With a natural water slide carved into the bottom of the shallow creek surrounded by picturesque red rock canyon walls, speckled with high altitude pines, and accessible to all.  One would be foolish not to stop and admire the scene.

Most will make the short trek in, toss down a towel, and splash around in the creek a little bit before letting the hot Arizona sun and dry desert air melt you into the beauty of the landscape.  All will make sure to snap a photo or two independently of whether or not they notice any of the scenic magnitude offered by the vistas of this sacred corner of our planet.

I had never tried to climb a route barefoot, and I was intimidated by the potential of falling to the rocky canyon floor, but the route seemed fairly simple, and the payoff of an isolated spot to enjoy the surroundings was too magnetic to ignore.

The send was pretty stress-free, and the risk was minimal, the extended view (even from just four meters up) was well worth it.  But then the rock was surrounded.  I couldn’t see them, I just heard “arch your back more” “tilt your head to the right” “take one with my glasses” “look in that direction” “we can edit that” “OH MY GOD THERE’S A GUY UP THERE”.  They did make me feel pretty good when I got a round of applause for down-climbing without killing myself, but WTF was going on?

Over forty years ago, Susan Sontag wrote: “Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted.  Industrial societies turn their citizens into image junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution.”  (If only she lived long enough to see how accurate this quote would become.)

WTF was going on?  “F” the birds, “F” the rocks, “F” the water, “F” the sun, “F” the trees, and “F” that crazy A-hole on top of that rock.  Reality confirmation is taking place, photo or it didn’t happen!

If we were photo junkies in 1977 what in the world are we now? Photomanical Habitués of unrelenting capitalistic social behavioral design…perhaps?  But ‘junkies’ just has a better ring to it.  And so we are!

A 2018 study by Asurian2 notes that while on vacation Americans check their phones eighty times a day on average.  Every twelve minutes, its “F” the birds, “F” the rocks, “F” the water, “F” the sun, “F” the trees, and “F” that crazy A-hole on top of that rock.  Five times every waking hour while on VACATION!

The world is a Skinner Box, photography has been completely reduced to a simple lever, and we are re-enforced over and over and over again by “likes” and “views”.  I make sure to emphasize ‘we’, because we are all in this together.  Being a junkie in this sense cannot be pejorative, it might be sad, unfortunate, and in some instances depressing, but it’s an accurate description of what we have become.

The re-enforcing effects of this behavioral design will wane, the role of the photograph will continue to evolve.  I know some people who have already cut the cord on the social media altogether, it’s a trend I’d like to see grow in popularity.  But I’m afraid that until the next tasty “food-pellet” comes along, the highs and lows of our over-saturated drug of choice in our boundless world of manipulated images and controlled reality is where we’ll remain…scrolling through photos of other’s “lives” as they scroll through photos of ours.  No one ever said that our conditioning chambers couldn’t be comfy!

I for one am fed up.  I can’t stand the idea of trying to “capture” reality in a photograph or worse yet realizing that we are beyond capturing reality.  Reality is no longer good enough; the photograph distorts reality to make things (ourselves included) more remarkable than they really are.  The photograph is a tool through which reality can be improved.  Why stare at an actual mountain when I can stare at thousands of mountains on a screen in the palm of my hand?

“Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of truth.”3

Carrot
Carrot (Co-writer)

  1. The final sentence to Susan Sontag’s remarkable essay on the state and future of photography In Plato’s Cave.
  2. Asurian Study.
  3. The first sentence to Susan Sontag’s remarkable essay on the state and future of photography In Plato’s Cave.
  4. Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1977.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16 Replies to “On Photography”

  1. Excellent read. I really do need to reflect on the way I use and take photos. I feel the almost constant urge to check my phone, sometimes even every few minutes. I remember sitting with my group on the West Coast Trail, out of service range, and talking about how anything could be going on in the world at that moment and we would have no idea for a few more days. It brought a sense of peace, a weight lifted.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for that comment. I can relate so well to what you wrote here. That sense of disconnecting has allowed me to reconnect to other things, and it really does offer a sense of peace.

      Like

  2. I’m convinced that photography should be banned in certain places — historic sites such as concentration camps, houses of worship and so on.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that is a really good idea, at least there should be credentials in order to photograph certain places like that.

      Like

  3. Thanks for the story! Great post and so true. I’ve been working hard to just revel in my surrounds, wherever they may be, and not pick up the phone. Takes practice but it’s enlightening. And, if you’re taking a photo, as you so eloquently point out, you miss the actual experience. Don’t do that!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I concur with you on this.

    Somethings in life are not meant to captured, they are to be experienced.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I read this cool thing about folks clearing out a residence after the death of its owner. One with a psychologist’s view spoke of the items of interest. Books on travel, mountain-climbing, bird-watching, exploration. Subscriptions to National Geographic, Nature, National Wildlife, Audubon. Books on photography, drawing & painting, fly-tying, writing. There were books on poetry, philosophy, meditation, religion.
    “But he did none of these things.” a close friend observed. He was an aircraft mechanic who worked in a hangar in a large metropolitan airport. He’d fish once in a while with simple live baits, and spent a week on the Jersey Shore for vacation.
    The psychologist friend observed that these things represent what he wanted to be, the ways he wanted to see himself. These objects represented his broad interests, a sense of adventure, an introspective mind, appreciation of literature, a love of the outdoors and nature.

    I see people everywhere missing out on what is before them. Fireworks, graduations, opportunities to meet a celebrity or the Governor or even the President. They are holding their phones up in front of their faces. They are recording the live video of the event. Not only to prove it happened, but also to attempt to preserve the event for posterity.

    I wonder how often anyone really ever looks at that video again. How long it sits there until the phone’s memory is too full and it is summarily deleted to make room for more videos we’ll never watch. Meanwhile, what could have been a great experience was reduced to another four minutes looking at that same phone you look at all day every day.

    Photographs are the modern petroglyphs, hieroglyphs, cave paintings. Since ancient history, humankind has had a natural and inherent desire to make marks, signs, symbols. To leave something behind to communicate with the next person to see it. To leave a record of their passing here, the events that made up their lives. In tombs of the Pharaohs, whole lives are depicted, victorious battles, communing with gods, being praised by their people.

    At one time, photos were a marvel. Folks could see peoples and places they would otherwise need to imagine, or at best could view in an artist’s rendering. How exciting it must have been in those early years, to actually see the battlefields of the Civil War, or a real photo of President Lincoln! Look! Not a sketch. It’s the real thing!

    We used to take pictures of the things we were seeing, the people who joined us, the great wide world surrounding us.
    Now it seems, folks are only interested in taking pictures of themselves taking pictures of themselves. Somehow this all hooks back around to the opening herein. Somehow, this seems like people trying to photograph themselves into people they wish they were, instead of being satisfied with being who they are.

    Gosh. Sorry to commandeer your blog so.
    Putting up a lot of words makes me feel like the me I see for myself as a writer.

    Seek peace,

    Paz

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I absolutely love this! I was just having this conversation and we are so consumed with exaggerating our pictures to make them more appealing to someone other than ourselves..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was just coming by to return the like on my post. (Thank you by the way) I am now a follower. You have a gift for writing. An ability to bring me to where you are. Also I agree wholeheartedly about how infiltrated we are with technology. I call it IGA. Instant gratification addiction. Great post

    Liked by 1 person

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