Unlike a lot of people, I’m not interested in taking photos of everyone and everything I encounter. I figure I can either spend my time experiencing life or documenting stuff that I didn’t really see because I was too busy taking photos of them. Have you seen people in museums who look at paintings only through their cameras? They never see the original. I wonder if they ever bother to look at those pale copies once they walk out the door.
Photos and real life have always been two different things. The camera lies more often than we realize. Today it lies even more convincingly thanks to “deep fake” images and videos. Yet, and to our peril, we too often experience photos as more real than reality.
There are other reasons why I have an ambivalent relationship with the camera. I’m with Phyllis Diller, who said, “My photographs don’t do me justice. They look just like me,”
Once, at a photographic exhibit, I read a quote by Susan Sontag to the effect that “photos make a cemetery of the world.” It put words to a feeling I’ve had most of my life. On the rare occasions when I look at old photos of my loved ones, there are some pleasant memories of good times and of our youthful selves, but mostly I feel pangs of loss. Those frozen moments, moments that are now and forever dead and gone, are reminders of the impermanence of life and the speedy passage of time.
I try hard to avoid being photographed, but can’t always succeed. People are so insistent. They just can’t understand why a person wouldn’t want their picture taken. To them I say, why bother? Like most us, I will soon be added to the legions of unremarkable people lost to the collective memory. People will continue to want to see what Einstein, Churchill, Picasso, Marilyn Monroe looked like. You and I? Who cares? As surely as water disappears down the drain, for those of us who comprise the vast ranks of the unremarkable, even the most meticulously cultivated image on Facebook will not save us from slipping into anonymity.
The obsession with selfies and the need to interrupt life every other minute to prove, to just whom I have no idea, that indeed one does exist, is but one more symptom of the pervasive narcissism that characterizes our times. This phenomenon has led to all sorts of unanticipated negative consequences. Read the book “All Consuming Images” by Stewart Ewen for an eye opening expose of how consumerism fueled by manipulative imagery in advertising, politics and the like have impacted our lives. Not usually for the better.
If you want to know me, aside from meeting me in the flesh, read my books and blogs. No photo will tell you as much as those thousands of words.
After this diatribe, readers may think it strange to hear that I have regrets about not having taken a photo the other day. I was passing the side-by-side Republican and Democratic voter information booths at the farmers market. The women manning the Democratic booth were masked. The Republican, of course, was not.
The Republican overheard me say to the Dems that a photo of this scene would perfectly sum up the difference between the parties. She went off on a tirade of mistaken notions about vaccinations and masking. Choosing not to engage, I turned to the Democrat ladies, shrugged, and went off to buy my tomatoes.
Truth has become a prime victim of our troubled times. Disinformation and self-imposed ignorance have taken a deadly turn. They will continue killing long after the virus ceases to do so. Too often, photos reinforce untruths. Still, sometimes a picture does reveal truth and is, indeed, worth a thousand words.
This would have been one such photo. Too bad I didn’t take it.