that she could remember the details of her life, and that later she came to realize that she also wanted to create and sustain a sense of her own identity…”7
There is a great tradition of pictures of private and personal lives in photography, from Arthur Tress’ picture of his dying father in the snow to Mapplethorpe’s disturbing self portraits. Some of the most moving imagery has been created when the photographer turns their camera on themselves, and these pictures are important and valuable. The essential point is that these pictures were produced as deeply considered art images and are intended to be contemplated slowly, in relation to our wider cultural and political standards.
The problem with modern culture’s neurotic, compulsive approach to recording life is the vast quantity of images that we are now producing, irrespective of the quality or importance of the message. We are photographing everything in order to give it importance and value, instead of recognising the intrinsic importance or value of a scene and thus deciding to photograph it.
I am worried that in this mindless recording of everything we are destroying our experiences with the action of photographing them. You cannot be yourself and watch yourself simultaneously. The emergence of a camera usually breaks the naturalness
of a moment and turns it into a performance. As Walter Benjamin stated at the end of his 1936 essay, “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction”:
Humanity which in Homer’s day provided a spectacle for the gods of Olympus, has now become one for itself. Its alienation from itself has reached a point where it now allows its own destruction to be savoured as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.8
It is not my intention to spread a message of gloom and misery. We are not doomed to a nightmare future of fragmentation and alienation. We do not have to smash our tools and go back to living in caves.
Modern culture [has] a neurotic approach to
Just every now and again, put the camera down. Switch off your computer and phone. Step out into the big, wide confusing world and enjoy the messages from your senses. Know that a record is never a substitute for a real experience. Take time to smile and shake hands and know this moment will never be repeated and all our recording tools are only ways of dealing with life; they are not as important as life itself.