Saturday, July 16, 2005

sunday at 10:39 am

well here are a bunch of photos from the school festival ( and a few from Tokai - Malani's school) yesterday. Its weird looking at them, because I feel like I know the students pretty well now - I can see it in the photos. But on the other hand, I also don't know them in the least. All I really know about them, is the kind of faces they make, or whether they seem to be enthusiastic or not, and how they walk and relate to other people. But I don't know much at all about how they use language - I don't know what kind of expressions they use, or what that would indicate about the kind of people they are, I don't really know what their families or home lives are like, I don't know what they want to do after school, or in many cases what sort of things they like to do when they are not busy with school or work. I can guess that many of them don't have a very good home life, and don't think they are very smart, and will probably not continue their education after high school. But really, I know such a small small part of them. But now I have one moment of their lives on 'film' on something - I took all those tiny little parts of their face and body and the way the light reflected off them at that place and time ( yesterday somewhere on the school grounds) and broke them down into molecular like pixels turned them into some kind of 1's and 0's ( actually I have very little idea how digital technology works) and then put them all together again in exactly the same configuration as before, only shrunk to about what, 1/50th the original size? I can't even estimate that accurately. But now I have that tiny replica of them forever and ever. Well, relatively speaking. And I don't even really know them. I was just reading Susan Sontag's ' On Photography' this morning. I have had it around meaning to read it for ages, but somehow I always put it off, thinking ' oh I'll get around to it later' or ' Well, actually its sort of boring to read it, the same stuff we talked about in film theory classes at U of T - all these references to ' Blow Up' and ' Peeping Tom' and the camera as an instrument of appropriation, intimidation, voyeurism' But thinking about it, in a way I never feel like reading it because at least at the beginning ( don't know about the end yet) everything it says about photography is so negative. That it's the symptom of a disconnected world, an uneasy people, a time of isolation and violence and everyone trying to dominate each other, a symptom of a time when people cannot experience reality on its own, they have to seperate it from themselves to experience a kind of constructed version of what's happening to them. It makes me feel guilty to like taking photos so much.
On the other hand, I agree with pretty much everything I've read so far. That is what photography is in so many ways. But I can't help but feel that that analysis is only one part of the whole. Its hard to say how much photography is fictionalizing reality to make it bearable and consumable to people, distancing us from our lives and selves, and how much it acts as a mirror which helps us to explore reality and ourselves from so many different perspectives. In general, when we look at how photography affects the general population in regards to how advertising, news, state, etc. - I think i can agree that in general its a negative thing. I really think so. The sheer volume of information via the image is so overwhelming and distracting to people that it addles the brain, and in the best case scenario makes us tune it out, in the worst takes a hold of our minds in a strange way which raises our anxiety levels to a high pitched buzzing. But I'm not sure that the effect of ' photography in the media and daily life' can be equated with all photography and the actual act of photographing. I mean, in a way I feel that Sontag's perspective ( and keep in mind I have only a very slim aspect of it to go on so am wildly drawing uniformed conclusions based on the tone of her writing!) is a very 1960's way of seeing things. I'm not saying its wrong at all, but its very political and seems to see the situation as bad / good in a way that I don't necessarily think is a useful way to think of it now. I'm not quite sure what I mean. Well, I guess its just that I don't know how useful it ever really is to compare the ' world consciousness' now, to the ' world consciousness' one hundred years ago or whatever - if the comparison is trying to make some kind of claim about whats gotten better or whats gotten worse. It just seems so impossible to do that. A whole bunch of things have gotten worse, and a whole bunch of things have gotten better. And more to the point, there's no going back. There's no use in saying ' it was better when people talked more and watched tv less and so that's what we should all try to do' Its a dead relationship - the relationship between the past and the present. Sure, we can try to change things, but its got to be leading out of a point we are at NOW. There's no going back. We can only try to feel out the most positive direction available to us at this time and juncture. And to bring this back to photography, I guess its just that I think that negative assessment of photography is only one side of the old ying yang. Photography and film are tools which we can choose to make use of in so many many different ways. To me they are instruments for exploring reality, which enrich my experience of unfiltered reality every day. I think that thinking about the negative aspects of photography/ film is absolutely essential though. Essential if we want to keep in mind the pitfalls, the ways in which it can act as a tool of separation, detachment, fantasy. One of the worst things about people nowadays ( Of course i don't know what they were like before 'nowadays' but I have a hunch things were different ) is that no-one seems to appreciate reality itself. Noone seems to even notice it. As though the miracle of 3 dimensional space was just so mundane. Who hasn't daydreamed about entering some movie world - but if you were there, it would quickly become just as boring as this reality because people these days live on fantasy - the unobtainable - if they got what they wanted they wouldn't be happy with it, because it would change as soon as they got it. And images feed that constantly by showing fantasy worlds - every image is a fantasy world really. But if those images can be looped into our lives in a meaningful way, a way that doesn't just show a time or place as an appealing abstraction, but as a reflection of what we really have, of our real lives, of the real substance of this mind blowing thing which is ' existing' then it can enrich our experiences and help us to find meaning, engagement, connection, depth. Or am I just trying to justify all the negative things I engage in when I take a photo? Its difficult to be honest with oneself, because taking photos is such an average occupation these days, that noone would really fault you for it - noone would suggest that the act is a violent one. I don't know, I guess just like everything its a complex mix of motives. I certainly know that when in an uncomfortable situation, taking photos makes me feel like I have a place. Its like smoking a cigarette. ha ha.... I think its been easy to develop my skills as a photographer in Japan, because I often feel awkward here - unsure how I should act or engage with people - taking photos gives me a role. Also, I think I have genuinely come to enjoy observing people - in a rather gentle way I think - I love to see how their personality shows itself in small gestures, movements, posture. I cannot understand people well through language, so I have learned to be observant of the visible aspects of people's individual worlds. But at the same time, the world I enter when I get really engaged with the camera, is the world that I think of as the foundation of reality. There are times when I feel I am sort of extra-present in the world. Aware to an almost excruitiating degree of my own existence, of being on the edge of the cliff of the future ( no one knows what will happen tomorrow!) of the strangeness of 3 dimentional space, of the incredible complexity of everything around us - from the composition of a leaf, to the mad and fantastic workings of chance, coincidence, fate, accidents, love, death etc. etc. etc. Those times happen when I am quite unconcerned with my own affairs - and for that reason able to ' open the valve' as wide as possible. It happens sometimes when I meet someone and we really connect, it happens when I'm alone and watching the sunlight, it happens totally unexpectedly when something strange occurs, and it happens when I take photos sometimes. I guess its because - even if I am not able to open the valve all the way all the time, I can often open it all the way in regards to the tiny slice of reality I see through the lens. It allows me to get totally involved in that small square of reality, and to see in it so many aspects of the whole ( of reality ) . So the question I ask then is - is that negative? I guess it is in certain ways, but isn't it also wonderful in other ways? And if we are aware of the problems inherent in photography, and explore them too, can't they become positive in a way? Because they help us understand life more deeply?

Ok well, this has been probably the longest diatribe on this whole blog. I guess its a topic that hits very close to things I feel are most important to me. I will probably reread it and think its crap, but I suppose its good to get these things out - perhaps it will spark some new project, or make me want to do my M.A. Ok back to cleaning my house. God there is a lot of dust where things used to be.

1 comment:

MdL said...

hey i like your diatribe...

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