Why I Still Cannot Use Digital Cameras

Reshooting Ourselves: Second-chancing Originals or the Freeze for Pleasing, in which the Writer Himself is Forever a Contradiction

I’m running along Lake Michigan in Chicago when I notice a woman getting her picture taken with a dog out on a stretch of fading sand. Immediately, I think about how this picture, with something like a ninety percent chance of being taken with a digital camera, will end up on her Myspace of Facebook page. When I get back from the run, having had to weave in and around throngs of people slowly strolling off their urban worries, I open the newspaper to see a picture of a hockey player getting checked up against the boards and in the background, behind the glass, there are four different people taking pictures of the moment with their camera phones.

So what am I getting at? Well, in the most straightforward fashion I want to highlight how we are living in a “Society of Freeze,” an era quickly becoming more obsessed with capturing a moment and remanufacturing it as an emblem of ‘the’ desired personality. Before I try to highlight this, I must admit that I myself am very much part of this society, if not in its starting lineup of obsessers, so anything I comment upon is self-reflection, if not admonition as well.

It has taken me a while to accept the thrust of technology, especially the advancement of cameras. For me, the digital camera is still somewhat of a postmodern toy, a little mechanism that is aware of itself as art, but perhaps not fully of art, at least not the art I first knew and have held within since. The ability to retake a photograph startles me. It’s like a band replaying a song at a concert. It startles me mostly because the history of photography is built upon the perspicacity of the photographer, upon the ability of the eye to perceive something of beauty within a simple click and know the image being shot will withstand the test of untimely critics. Aside from crowd shots (those lovely abundant bar pictures of everyone eye-glazed with licks of Patron, beers in hand), digital cameras seem to deceivingly promote the artist in everyone and thus allow too many second chances. Why not be given a second change? That’s not my main problem, only that I am very troubled myself in believing I can own and happily operate a digital camera.

Of course, this isn’t entirely a bad thing. Movies have long had the ability to reshoot a scene, and writing, upon its very first ink-drop (key-punch), is naked for the edit, but we are now asserting perfection in every technical medium when we take another shot of the same scene. Myspace runs on this very assumption as well. We have a giant base of young and hip people advertising their thoughts and lives online for whoever cares to catch a glimpse (ahem…blogging?). Sure, some keep their profiles private, but the addiction is one of outlining the newness and freshness of ourselves, so that through the comments of others and the acknowledgment of ourselves as part of this very freshness we are somehow more real, more perfect. Just as taking another picture of the same scene contradicts the very intention of taking the picture, because the first snap doesn’t look as great as we thought it to be (the picture then becoming an attempt at perfection rather than spontaneous capture) placing a picture on Myspace/Facebook is part of the act of representing ourselves through manipulation of scene, of giving others pictures of what we want ourselves to be, as in actuality, we are the “they” behind that picture, the bored men and women sneezing as society reels the film behind the walls of entertainment.

For some time now I have tried to pinpoint the irksome feeling I have about freezing moments. I love photography, and I willingly spend time changing my pictures all the time as to represent mood, but I feel as though the massive progression of digital photography and camera phones is coming close to trumping recollection altogether. For instance, instead of being able to tell a story about an amazing time, anyone under the age of twenty-five is probably more likely to pull out an online album or point you toward their blog where a picture exists with a five word title serving as the complete story (i.e. “Mexico boozing”). Just by taking a second shot of that beach or that cliff we are giving up the feeling that was strong enough to make us take the picture in the first place (I can’t decide if this is more a selfish or altruistic action), replacing that feeling with the worries of it being the best image for others to see (when they weren’t even there!).

But Tyler, isn’t that the very idea of photography, so that others can be put into the place photographed even though they weren’t there? It might be, but this is not the point; the point is that the second chance being given through digital photography is allowing nearly everything to be art and thus taking art almost completely away. It’s similar to reading the newspaper online, of taking the physical joy and knowingness of something away and making only the threadbare accessible. The palimpsestic aspect is no longer of avail. Instead, we just have the surface level sheet of paper (screen), glossed and grandiose.

We are no longer allowing for the lovely wonder and mystery of the moment to be flirted with or discovered. Items such as blogs or one’s Myspace page are so surface level that they distort the idea of there being more than what is on the page to any one person. Such is the state of the second picture of one particular place; the original spark has been fiddled with then booted away by the perceived perfect, or, in larger terms, we are advertising ourselves more and more every day, but the advertisement is not of its original colors, it is more of what others will be enticed by and less of what is originally enticing; it is the deceit of advertising.

A prime example of advertising deceit comes through daily on book jackets, movie posters, and music albums. No longer are there complete critical investigations into the merits of important books or albums, but instead there is a mass mash-up of double-compounded heralding, the old academic man replaced by a multi-tasking urban hotshot who jumps on the bandwagon to call Little Miss Sunshine the best movie of the year. Once again, the object of art itself is usurped by the two line quote from some no-name critic whose compliments, because they come from some magazine the purchaser trusts as the ultimate source, erase the object almost altogether, leaving often too many expectations and disappointments for the average reader.

Certainly, this is not to say people shouldn’t buy a book because The New York Times’ Michiko Kikutani called it brilliant, for by no means am I going to put down anyone who reads, that being a problem in general. The problem here is that of the second picture being taken—it is the reproduction or shortening of something that took longer to produce than it will to be held and perused, the idea that there is an actual book behind that snippet on the jacket, that the first picture you snapped of a river valley was just as instinctual as the closing lines of Mailer’s latest novel, and replacing the object you own or desire is a form of distancing oneself from the heart of the art.

There is much more to be said here, but I feel that it might reach thesis proportions. Text messaging seems to be a further distancing from communication in its disregarding of voice and the intimacy of conversation, but I will stop there, because I find myself textually harassing people nearly every weekend. I also feel we are a part of the Best-Of’s; contributors to the packaging of material that attempts to lengthen but only ends up compartmentalizing material (example: bands having the Best Of albums in the middle of their careers). This could just be the clinic of cynicism I am currently subscribing to, or the bitter patter of pang I stir into slang when I realize nobody writes letters or uses old school cameras anymore. Either way, I hope it spawns some more speech about our current enrollment in the increasingly complex arena of communication.

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