Friday 28 June 2013

A bizarre obsession with photography

BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs today featured actor and comedian Hugh Laurie.

His selection of music was intelligent and heavily biased to the blues. However, the reason for drawing this programme to your attention is an interesting observation he made:
I heard the other day that there have been more photographs taken in the last twelve months than there have ever been taken, in the world, ever. Because people are now photographing – I shudder to think what they are photographing – everything and nothing. No interaction is deemed to have actually happened unless somebody has a picture of it. Nobody is satisfied with having met a person without having a photograph to prove it. I think that is odd, and I think it’s so odd that it might actually be starting to alter the way we think about each other and the way we think about general day-to-day social interaction.
What prompted this observation was the fact that digital photography has meant there is no longer any escape for a celebrity in a public space. But even when there are no celebrities around, it is notable how people with digital cameras and camera phones seem to be taking pictures constantly, so that they are no longer experiencing life directly but at one remove.

The problem is not photography or even digital photography per se but its incessant and indiscriminate use. As Laurie says, photography has become a curious form of validation of experience. It also makes you wonder what people do with all the photos they take. Digital photography means that people rapidly accumulate vast collections and, since they probably never look at most of these pictures more than a few days after taking them, it would seem that the act of capturing images is more important than the images themselves.

It has reached the point where some restaurant customers consider it quite normal to photograph each dish put in front of them, so that the image rather than the taste assumes greater importance.

It is a strange world where people think of ‘memory’ as something stored on a memory card rather than stored in their brains, and where life becomes something to capture rather than experience directly.

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