Photography is a curious art. It instills no surprise in me that 'unmodern' cultures used to find these instruments anxious; I myself am still mildly confounded by this technology even though I was born into a culture and time that has favoured it ubiquitously, whilst also becoming equally negligent of its power. To capture a moment for a relative eternity, one that previously had only existed as a fleeting sensorial passing, is a profound act; a gross act, in the mind of some.
Photography has a paradoxical relationship with the 'real'; the camera can act as a shield and as a distractor, but it can also act as a tool for the extension of sight and insight. Consider a typical tourist casually snapping their way around a new experiential environment, moving on to each new land-mark or vista, pausing only so long as each click of the shutter, seemingly distracted (as we have come to constantly be) by a permanent act of pre-remembering. The captured images serve to act as experience, especially when they are witnessed live on a reactive screen, and secondarily they serve to act as memory and prop up the recollective narrative of that experience. Memory is notoriously fallible and malleable, and the photograph steps in to redefine it, often to negate. Unfortunately most photography is of this nature, and has become increasingly so with the spread of digital technology; the act of attention is being lost in a deluge of vapid and distracting images.
Conversely, photography has the power to focus attention, on the moment and on the subject matter; there are few things that have the power to elicit an emotional response so concentrated, as a well considered (lucky) and attentive photograph. Although the camera can distantiate the photographer from experience (there are many criticisms of the amoral, opportunistic, even voyeuristic stance of the photographer), it can also draw them into the very depths of it. Whether one has traveled into a war-zone and milled amongst victims and aggressors, or spent long minutes on knees in spring bracken observing the shapes and forms of ones quarry, it is clear that such observation provides a significant meditation on awareness. From this perspective the outcome of the art is secondary, no matter the effect on a later witness; what matters is the intense evanescent experience of the observer in their transaction with the observed. Every moment passes unique and fleeting, never again to be witnessed in similitude.
The image has increasingly come to dominate our experience, as the desert of the real shrinks back into shadow against the bright edges of our screens. Our lives are conducted increasingly vicarious through machines, and our dreams and fantasies are manipulated by the hyperreality of our media. We have long since crossed the threshold into this space of Baudrillard; yet even though he warned of our wanting wanderings across this land, the territory is expanding, recapitulating and reinventing itself, unhampered and unnerving. Reality has in effect become the thing that is now difficult to experience, as opposed to dream; simulations and simulacra have superseded the real as so-called celebrities prance on computer generated backdrops with airbrushed skin and photoshop-ed waistlines, and previously inconceivable animated vistas dazzle our expectations and keep us from stepping out to experience those that genuinely exist.
Such technology now has such a grip on us that we feel anxiety when we are separated from it and we seem to be losing the ability to focus on anything properly for any longer than a few moments. Similarly this constant reiteration and improvement of the Nu, goads us blindingly into over-consumption so as to satiate our wants, whilst terminal dissatisfaction haunts us. The soul hole that yearns for deep contentment not only cannot be filled by such false succour, but it also expands exponentially in response to this diet.
We are in a perilous state, every current action is vital. We have come to treat each other like the commodities we have been encouraged to acquire and shortly dispose of. Most of our notion of 'love' has been manipulated by the desire for access to acquisition, whilst ironic romance dramas and comedies tantalise us with delirious hopes from beyond the screen, as we displace and dispose (delete) of companions like we do our mobile phones.
Beware the image. Beware the hyperreal. Disobey the tellingvision. Learn the art of the photographer, the art of attention; the art of seeing, but be very warey of his creations, for they are not always as real as they seem.