Like just about every day, I went walking today with my camera. When I do this, I typically bury my cell phone somewhere in my camera bag where it is very hard to access. I do this because I’ve come to realize that the whole purpose of being outside is to see and feel what’s going on around me. I want to disconnect from electronics and connect with the world that keeps on moving in spite of our interest in joining it. Perhaps this is a photographer thing, but I don’t think so. More than that, it is a fascination with a world that is alive and in motion, a world where glances still hold unspeakable mystery, and where human energy continues to create all things wonderful and all things bad. Humans, in all their shapes, forms, and behaviors are the stuff of life.
That is why it is so hard to positive spin on the modern phenomena of the connected disconnected. The being there in society, but not there at the same time. Like the young man in the photo above, to be actively linked to the faraway world via a cell phone, but totally uninterested in the the world that sits just a few feet away. Connected, but disconnected. A statement about our modern digital generation, I guess. But perhaps, if he would have only glanced up from the screen for a moment like she did to make eye contact, a whole new world connections would have been possible. They shall never know, for at no time did he raise his eyes in her direction. Connected, disconnected. A new form of normal.
Photographers are never a happy lot. If you are like most photographers, you tend to spend too much time reading photography sites and worrying about the gear you don’t have, or the photos you are not taking. Seldom will you check out a photo’s EXIF data and find yourself rejoicing. No, on the contrary. What’s more likely to happen is that all that technical data contained in those accompanying files will leave you with a sense of quiet desperation. One side of you will see that the great photo you’re looking at was taken with a more expensive camera/lens combination than what sits in your camera bag. Another side of you, and perhaps more painful to ego and wellbeing, will discover that the photograph was taken with a much cheaper camera/lens combination than what you dished-out for your precious. Whatever the case, your mind will immediately begin questioning your choices, and a raging war of words from pundits living in your subconscious will not waste a single second in turning your brain into a virtual battle zone. You need more, you need less, you need different, more time, more knowledge, more, more, less, less. It’s enough to get you committed to an institution. In the end, all you really need is the desire to take photos, and the ability to do so. Time and disposition are the key, and just like wine, whatever you think is good, is good enough. So best to purge those voices in your head and just go out and make photographs with whatever gear you’ve got. Believe me, I’ve been plenty envious of what some people are recording with their iPhones. But maybe it was because I didn’t have the right lens. Oh no, there again are those voices in my head.
Don’t sound the trumpets yet about the disappearance of print newspapers, because as they say, their demise has been highly exaggerated. Lately, and admittedly to my great surprise, I have noticed more and more people reading newspapers out in the open than usual. Not sure what’s going on, but whether this is nostalgia or rejection of the latest technology fads, the truth is that the few remaining diehard paper readers out there have become a lot more noticeable than the iPad reading crowd. After all, you don’t have to charge a newspaper at any time during the day, and you can buy years of newspapers before you break even with the cost of an iPad. Whatever the reason, it does look like newspapers (and the trash they generate) will be around for a while. How long will that be is anyone’s guess, but time does not appear to be on their side.
It appears to be a scientific truth that as we age our vision diminishes with the years. Technically speaking, this simple fact could lead us to conclude that diminished visual capacity means that we will all see less the more our hair turns to gray. I get this, but I’m here to tell you that the opposite is indeed the case. That is, if we are to accept that there is a distinction between mere looking and seeing, then aging could actually be a good thing for all of us. In fact, the familiar “being there, done that” claim that we are all so fond of using, actually holds the key to our ability to see more with age. Unconsciously, we all apply years’ worth of visual experiences to every scene we look at with our alert, yet tired eyes. The computer inside our heads forms a myriad of relationships to other similar scenes in our lives, as well as the outcome of those scenes. This is why an aboriginal who has lived all of his or her life deep in the Amazon jungles will always see a lot more than a city visitor when staring at a thick jungle. It is the visual advantage of experience and time spent outside. So as you age you need to keep on looking, and look some more, put on those glasses that vanity sometimes relegates to a hidden place, and celebrate the passing of time. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much more you will be able to see now that youth is not affecting your vision.
I was fascinated by this scene when I bumped into it at the Javits Center in New York City. An oasis of quiet in a city that is not known for being quiet. The woman simply owned the spot, and from what I could tell, no one dared to occupy any of the empty chairs next to her. A perfect display of momentary solitude and territoriality. An unintended, silent commentary that no one dared to disrupt. I wonder if she knew she was saying so much with her silence.