Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tell your inner editor to take a hike

  I was stabbed, perhaps in the eye, when Annette Kuhn in her piece "Remembrance" (1993) said that personal photography is really all about the promise of a brighter, better  past...for future consumption. We want to produce a certain kind of past for our future viewing  - we seek to produce a particular kind of story - like a happy story, the story we want our lives to be, with photography.

 
Though I don't think this is always true for all our photography, it is becoming an increasingly more prevalent  reflex - the editorial reflex - as image technology is invading more of our lives from every angle. We now have paid image consultants, people particulary adept in interpreting the image for insinutated meaning - we now edit everything - as if all we are, all we encounter is but an image.

Have you ever been on camera/video duty, viewing an unfolding moment - like a child's first birthday - and experiencing this moment through a lense? It sucks, because you sense your own disconnect, the lense coming between you and the moment - the lense making you see the moment only as it will be seen in the future. And how about when you are helping you little one blow out the candle? You are aware of the camera's gaze, aware of the future's gaze boring into you - you somehow feel as though you are performing to a canned script. Afterwards, now seconds after, we can alter the photos, and later photoshop them, editing our moments into some ideal - sometimes narrowing in on a detail and creating a story that was not even present in the moment at all. We know all too keenly that the image can lie - it can tell a story out of context, it can single out something that was not part of the lived moment, it can misrepresent, it can be a proxy for lived life.

This reflex is not a new thing. I think with the beginning of the camera, we have always sought to preserve our best. In around 1826 the invention of the rudimentary camera was taken to a level where photographs could be taken and reproduced in clear images. In cities and villages scattered about the world, who were blessed to have a photographer visit the home or open up a studio - we sat stiffly, often in our best black or formal attire if we had some, sometimes in our own Salon or a recreation of it outside - the best room of the house, with not a smile to betray our unbecoming feelings. We sensed this was for posterity - a preservation , a proof of our family legacy of uprightness, prosperity, unity... We have scripted out lives with the outlines of the image since early photography, since the comissioned paintings of portraits.

 

Guy Debord in his book "The Society of the Spectacle", says that we try to locate our idea of utopia in our present moments - is it there?  And because of this, every moment has a meaning only outside of itself - an applied value we give it rather than experiencing the moment as it is without labelling it, "oh, this is a nice 'aren't we a fun-loving family' moment", or "hmm, perfect for a "we are rebellious against societal norms" moment, and , when on a trip, you say to yourself not, "wow, how beautiful" but "wow, that would make a beautiful photograph". We see in moment and experiences their future worth rather than their present worth, we capture things that will tell the utopic story of our lives. Sometimes we spend a whole day taking photographs on a trip, then sit back at the hotel looking at the experiences we saw but did not live. We may not be aware of this process of editing moments with labels and functions and future worth - collecting moments we did not live. We may not be aware that not only is there an invasion of privacy from the surveillance cameras out on the street, but there is a constant invading surveillance of life through our inner lense. 

Surely this does not occur all the time. And surely photography adds to the value of life. Yet I am haunted by What Guy Debord famously said, " All that was once directly lived has become mere representation." We are rendered into moving, breathing images.



Foucault says that our society of surveillance promotes what he calls the "normalizing gaze", which he wrote about  in "Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison". I call this the one-eyed monster or simply the GAZE. With this gaze comes a constant surveillance that makes it possible to qualify, classify, to reward and to punish every living moment. Worldview and religion (imposed or freely taken), family legacy, national identity, friends and partners, cultural heritage all are gazes that reward and punish. But this is not just about images. It is about every second of breath and life. Its about becoming a breathing image of an ideal, rather than being, just being.

To be aware of this normalizing gaze within myself was the first step I took towards being free from it - to acknowledge that it is there, and look at it apart from it, at a distance. But I am in no way free - I'm just toddling towards more freedom, less self-surveillance.

The act of meditation could be described as the practice of clearing our present moments from the invading clutter of thoughts and images  - quieting that incessant monkey mind. It teaches us that our mind - that producer of images and thoughts, is not actually our true self, it is a mind, a tool, and we can tell it to be quiet. The practice of this allows for a quieter mind and perhaps a more lively self  - allowing our moments, some moments, to unfold unto themselves, free of the gaze, free of self-scrutiny. Prayer and contemplation is another way people use to quiet the inner editor - as is being in the Zone in a sport or loved activity - to be so engaged in a moment that time and self-scrutiny ceases to exist. This is not to say we should not plan and orchestrate our lives as best as we can, but it is to say that after planning and orchestration, we should then let the moments unfold as they will. Accepting them - as a gift,  instead of resisting them, editing them, capturing them. We have to trust them to be, so we can BE.


Cheers all - I posted this on my blog www.tinkerbellys.blogspot.com as well, hope thats not breaking a rule or something! And of course I want you to visit :)




3 comments:

Eco Yogini said...

i felt this disconnect when I watched Avatar with the 3D glasses. it felt less real, more 'storybook' and I felt it detracted from the experience....

a very interesting post. I do believe that we measure our existence-happiness-content (etc) externally, from the 'other'. In the way that becoming the object of gaze, of attention, is normal. I believe that without a mirror, without any 'other', we would experience a period of self doubt- loss of self. the whole- if a tree fell with no one around to hear it, thing.

thank you for this thought provoking post.

Beth Chapman said...

Great concept and one that revolutionized anthropology and literary criticism. Clifford Geertz challenged anthropologists to admit (finally) that despite their 'objectivity' they were simply reflecting themselves with selective slices. Nice transition from the 'gaze' to being. Well done.

marcime said...

Eco Yogini - hmm, yes, I agree that society, people are a mirror - inescapable reality of begin human - its just when that mirror turns inward and becomes a proxy for self...funny I am still thinking about all this...hmmm...!
:)