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29 June, 2006

Limit mediation

Becca Bland, a UK photographer, proposes a global 'non-photography day'.  As she explained, she'd like people to:

"... put your camera down and appreciate the moment you are in.
Experience life in an unmediated fashion, without anything in front of your eyes. Live in the moment."

I'd recommend the principle to anyone, but I hope people absorb the idea beyond an attention-grabbing (that's not a criticism!) one-off event, and I won't be deliberately participating on the chosen day (17 July).
Personally, whenever I'm somewhere vaguely photogenic I take a photograph then make a point of just looking, studying the view 'for real' and committing the experience, not only visual, to memory. I might then take another photograph, perhaps better than the first or of an aspect I hadn't noticed immediately, but the photograph definitely supplements the memory, rarely the reverse.

Whilst in Madrid earlier this month, I noticed that quite a large number of people seemed to be viewing the Museo del Prado, Spain's national gallery of pre-20th Century art, through their cameras, taking a photo of each painting then rushing on to the next. This puzzled me. Was the purpose merely to prove that they'd 'seen' the paintings, to tick them off some aspirational list rather than actually look at them? Would they really sit down and study them at a later date? If so, wouldn't the remoteness of amateur photography in non-optimal light diminish their appreciation?

I'd rather grab the (possibly once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity to absorb the real thing. At an obvious, superficial (to a non-painter, anyway) level, one can see the brushwork, but there's also value in seeing a painting at the true size, and there's an undeniable thrill in seeing the objects that the world-famous artists actually touched at the time of creation, that the subjects of portraits actually experienced for themselves, and that have acquired a patina – both visible/tangible and otherwise – of elapsed time. Even professional photos aren't the same.

As it happens, I did take 4-5 photos myself. Two were of obscure paintings I'd like to see again but wouldn't expect to be able to find on the web, and which I'd already intensely studied in the gallery. The others were of the building and the gallery-goers, both as (hopefully reasonably compelling) images and as memory-triggers.

I feel much the same way about concert photography.

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