Graham Field: Picture This
From our pocket instamatics containing a 110-film cartridge until the arrival of the first digital compacts, cameras were there recording what felt worth the cost of a photograph. Film and development fees were always a consideration to bear in mind, it limited frivolous clicking. That’s not to say there wasn’t the possibility of taking 24 photos of the same cloud, whilst laying on the grass at a festival or bike show as the intensity of the acid heightened.
But generally, there was a value to a photo that wasn’t just sentiment alone. Digital took the development cost away and with it to a degree, the value of the photo too.
Then it exploded, speed cameras, people monitoring, personal affordable CCTV, the Go Pro and of course the phone, the obsession, the addiction. Now the automatic reaction to any situation is to photograph it, which in turn generates the next reaction, when retelling the moment, is to show it, not tell it.
We stopped knowing and retaining phone numbers with the advent of a permanent phonebook index at our disposal, we lost our sense of direction with Sat-Nav and Google Maps. Now we have lost our power of description, replaced with the showing of a photo, the picture worth a thousand words. Unfortunately, those lost talents are not replaced with the ability to index, file or organise. Now a conversation stops in its tracks as the weak minded and adjective challenged instigator searches through a plethora of selfies to find the single image that is relevant to the point, whilst going off on irrelevant tangents ‘oh this is my neighbour’s babies’ christening, and look at my dog sleeping by the fire, arhhh this is my friends toddler…I can’t find the one of the sign to the mountain pass, anyway, this an omelette I had at a restaurant nearby.’
They may not lie but they have infested our lives like a plague, a knee jerk reaction to any and every situation is to point a phone at it. It records everything and you recall nothing.
There was a time when the SLR was for someone who at least saw shadows and light and the instamatic was owned by a person who appreciated that film was not cheap and only the worthwhile sights were worth recording.
Occasionally in our lives we have an epiphany, or in this case, it’s nothing more than the realisation I haven’t been getting out much…and everything has changed. This happened to me recently.
I've just been re-reading Jupiter’s Travellers. Once again I lost myself in a time that is now lost to all of us, funny how you take something different from a story every time you read it. This time, for me it wasn’t about the romance of addresses scribbled on a beer mat and knocking on a door in another continent, nor the acceptance of the time it took for parts to be flown, letters to arrive, visa’s to be obtained, money to be transferred. This time it was the ability to describe the scene which had me flicking to the photo page to see for myself, only to discover there was no photo of that event and realising, as I slowed my pace of reading to the pace of the journey on a 500cc Triumph Tiger, that I already knew all I needed to, a picture wasn’t necessary.
These thoughts occupied my mind as I rode a slightly faster Triumph, a Thruxton R, over 2,500miles through 6 countries in as many days from Bulgaria to attend a concert in Italy. It wasn’t a purely destination driven trip but I was quite focused as daily distances needed doing. Photos were few, but then I knew, as I've been doing it for over 30 years, I can’t capture in a photo the feeling an imposing mountain generates in me. I have to go and see it in the flesh and that’s why I took the route I did.
So, I've got Jupiter’s Travels in my thoughts, early Floyd in my head and I’m seeing scenery through my visor, so dramatic it can’t be captured. I was off to see the original Drummer along with some other esteemed musicians play Pink Floyd songs which were written in the decade before Ted Simson left on his journey in ’73, so I was in a retro state of mind.
Picture this: an open-air concert in a 16th century Italian piazza surrounded by Venetian style buildings, a warm summer evening, a world class band, civilized, classy, decadent, all senses catered for, the sights, the sounds, the warmth, the fragrances of Italian food mixed with the delicate aroma of marijuana, an overall feeling of exuberance and wellbeing.
The band come on stage and predictably are met with a Sieg Heil salute of mobile phones. Most only last for the first number. Some remain, the guy in front of me is either so enthralled or so disconnected he holds up his phone to video, not whole songs, only the short attention span -instant gratification bits of the songs which distract him from his habitual scrolling. Despite the power of the music it doesn’t occur to him to actually watch, he goes directly into recording mode. I take a photo of what is left of my view and hold it in front of him. “Look, this is what I can see. You are watching a band recreating music from the ‘60s with authenticity, do your part to respect, contribute and appreciate the event and put ya fucking phone down.”
This message seems to have the desired effect until the next crescendo and again losing any hint of consideration he may have, impulsively up goes the fucking phone again.
Now more central, the stage is closer and the feeling of emersion is beyond inhibitions, the phones remain held aloft but are not directly in my field of vision, distracting me with the light in my eyes infringing on my view or enjoyment of the show, it is spectacular.
I came away with a euphoric feeling and, as a bonus, a new example for the definition of ‘complete and utter stupidity’. Several rows in front of me were a couple, yes, a couple, both of whom have, for the entire show, their phones held in front of their faces, they are watching it all through their screen but get this. Being a piazza, not a purpose designed concert venue, in between them and the stage is an ornate lamp post. They are filming, with their third-rate video and sound equipment, a stage divided by a post. Who the hell is going to want to watch that, will they ever again? To remember the night, they stood in a place of utter beauty, the perfect blend of sound and light? None of which they witnessed as they were only aware of their phone screen in front of them, both of them, recording the same post that separated the stage in their identical videos.
I was incredulous, what do they talk about, do they just go home put their video on YouTube and see how many people like their post?
Maybe when they get home, should they even actually watch their recording, (although it’s unlikely it will ever be been seen by as many people as the number of unfortunates who were stood behind them the night it was shot, as those people couldn’t avoid the intrusive and selfish behaviour), but if it should ever be viewed again perhaps, just maybe, they will feel the sense of loss, because they failed to either capture on their phones or witness at the time the all-important atmosphere. And in the improbable event they are open and aware to such subtleties (which, let’s face it is not likely, as neither can tell the other what they were missing as they were both missing the same thing) there is a possibility that next time, they may actually put their phones down, live in the moment and suggest to the people in front of them that they do the same, who knows, it might even become a movement, to view our beautiful world through our own eyes, take it in as it happens, and search our minds and our vocabulary to recall and describe in a way that means conversation can continue without the need for a phone.
There has to be some hope.