Global Warning: Delete Photo Button Needed For Planet Earth
Help! The Earth is being obliterated with photos! Billions of new photographs are born every year! The internet’s matrix is overheating with the glow with trillions of megapixels of image info, drifting through its plexus of media connections. Human beings are increasingly at work, relentlessly sharing photographic fragments of their lives with family, friends, and complete strangers. Almost everyone seems willing to allocate precious time and attention to visually sniff and marvel at the endless stream of photos posted by every alienated soul in cyberspace.
For example, just considering Facebook, they get at least 200,000 photos uploaded every minute. Facebook has always been vague about exactly how many photos they get over a period of time, but they have gone on record to say that it’s over six billion photos a month.
Now that the technology has made photography simple and costless, human beings seem needy in a new way. They need to be constantly photographing the world. This suggests that our process of experiencing and valuing existence has changed. The experiences we value most are the ones we photograph. By photographing them we supposedly validate their occurence and enjoy them more. However, there is clearly an irony to this need to validate with photography the things we enjoy most.
Consider that during the process of photographing a beautiful sunset by tracking it in a view finder, we are excluded from the deeper sunset experience that takes in the full expansiveness, vividness, and incremental morphing of form and color as the sun goes down. Likewise, trying to photograph the exact moment when your kid receives the diploma excludes you from the full impact of the actual event.
For some reason this need to freeze special moments of life is becoming more important than to directly experience them in the natural flow of time. By freezing the moment we seem to think we capture it, possess it, validate it, and better enjoy it. But why do we need to play taxidermist with our peak experiences by stuffing them with pixels and mounting them on a screen? This is strange. Are we losing our memory? Are we so uncomfortable with ever accelerating change that we need to turn moments worth living into timeless two dimensional images so we won’t forget them, or to be certain that we didn’t imagine them? Or has the real world become so frightening and disorienting that we prefer to mute it by peering through the window of some image capture device to preserve our equanimity?
This obsession with capturing our lives with photos pertains to video as well. A new level of obsession with video is Goggle Glass and the GoPro camera. When video first appeared, there was a photojournalistic instinct to record really special, once in a life time, news worthy events…getting married, graduating from high school or college, receiving a special award etc.
Now, with the GoPro and Google Glass we can now easily record ourselves jogging thru our neighborhood streets, riding a bicycle on the boardwalk, shopping in the supermarket and enjoying backyard barbecues. Suddenly, this usual stuff we do everyday is getting recorded. We watch it, show it to our friends, and post it on the internet for strangers. Why are we compelled to record the trivial stuff we do in our uneventful daily lives? And why do we find it more interesting to view passing scenery during a bike ride around the block through the eye of a video lens rather than directly through the lens of our own eyes?
This irony is reaching the point of absurdity. We seek to confirm and appreciate our lives by recording the significant experiences we encounter. But this turns them into simplified two-dimensional representations of eventfulness, and as a consequence, we windup half-living the best moments of our lives.
Perhaps living moment to moment in a mindful connection to the natural flow of events has become too difficult. Maybe we just have trouble focusing our attention long enough to allow experience to unfold in a natural way.
Or are we afraid of life? Does media make the modern world appear too violent and disconcerting in its profit driven quest to kidnap our attention? Maybe we have become more comfortable experiencing life via the virtual disconnect produced by electronic media because it makes us feel insulated from the constant diet of destruction and violence that our media networks feed us. We feel safer as voyeurs precisely because photos and videos prevent us from coming into direct contact with a world presented as extremely dangerous.
A recent article on CNN.com entitled “Future of Sex: No Touching Involved” http://edition.cnn.com/videos/cnnmoney/2015/02/09/money-love-inc-future-of-love.cnnmoney?iid=ob_article_organicsidebar_expansion&iref=obnetwork describes a world of virtual sexual relationships with avatars. Helmets are worn over the head to electronically create the illusions of a sexual encounter in cyberspace. According to one futurist, this is where our current fascination with virtual reality is leading us.
This all raises interesting questions. What if we and our technology are conditioning ourselves to believe that only what can be captured in megapixels really exists? What if virtual imaging becomes the validating principle behind all of our experiences? Could this be the media industry moguls’ favorite wet dream? What if the people and things in our lives, and even ourselves, need to be captured electronically to be taken seriously? What will happen to the importance and validity of what cannot be captured in megapixels…what about honesty, courage, self-discipline, love…? Will these long-enduring characteristics of human existence continue to survive without the validation of being photographed and videotaped?
So who are these photo fanatics taking aim at planet Earth? The explosion of images we have just explored is the consequence of millions of people who are neither artists, nor professional image makers. They are just normal folks pointing a device at something they want to unequivocally remember, value, and confirm, and pressing the shutter release.
Unfortunately, they are under the illusion that they can more fully experience and enjoy reality by translating it into something virtual. These snap-shooter folks who embrace this trend toward digitalization of all existence seem well in the majority. Unfortunately they don’t realize that they are missing the best moments life has to offer, and at the same time contributing to a subtle but growing disregard for what cannot be captured with their cell phones, point and shoot cameras, and camcorders.
So in this scenario of a digitally eroding reality, where do the image makers who are artists and professional photographers fit in. Interestingly, there is a profound difference between image makers who are artists and professionals and the hoi polloi of the photo world. It is this remarkable difference that entitles them to be paid for what they do in spite of the smothering plethora of digital images with no monetary value at all.
That difference arises from the skill and creative spirit required by the fine arts photographer to powerfully express intangible feelings, hopes, and emotional states with the tangibility of a photographic print. It arises from the technical skill and visual imagination required by the commercial photographer to create a virtual image of some object, so well-crafted photographically, that it motivates the viewer to seek physical connection with the object in the real world, by purchasing it .
It is quite interesting to consider these two divergent psychological dynamics of digital imaging. For the vast world of amateurs who shoot to please themselves with the remembrance, validation, valuation of their own life experiences, the dynamic of their image making serves to draw the mind from the real world into the virtual world, and to ignore the intangibles of human experience.
For the commercial photographers shooting in order to motivate commerce in the real world, and for the fine arts photographers, shooting for the sake of expressing the intangibles of life, the dynamics of their image making serves to draw the mind from the virtual world of the photographic image back into the real world of life on planet Earth. The image making of the artists validates the intangible qualities and experiences of human existence precisely so they can not be ignored or forgotten.
Being able to capture a moment in time with a digital device is a question of truth or consequence. The truth is, life unfolds in the present moment of the real world. The consequence of losing this connection is a kind of spiritual/psychological death.
Yes, today anyone can take a photo that looks like a real world event. But now more than ever, it is important to recognize the difference between the artists/professionals, and the snap shot shooters. Intention is the key difference. The artists/professionals point to the real world. The others point away. Learn to appreciate the efforts of professional photographers both in the commercial world and in the world of fine arts. They shoot to help you stay connected to the only thing that really exists for all of us…the present moment on Planet Earth.