Everyone connected to me beyond a cursory meeting knows how much I love the art and craft of photography. I blog about photography to try to get at the heart of what I like so much about it. Part of my enjoyment is purely technical. Part is aesthetic. Part is accomplishment in creating a nice image. Part is capturing some moment in the human condition. Part is capturing a piece of the natural world. Part is experimentation. When I came upon the above women (and the barely visible young child) admiring Paul Nicklen’s Narwhals at Chautauqua this year, it suddenly occurred to me that the reason I enjoy meta-photography is that it demonstrates the power of photography in other people’s lives. So often photographs are simple but powerful reminders of a place and time–documentation of our lives and relationships.
In many ways, wedding photography is the epitome of that concept, documenting lives and relationships. And done well, those images are incredibly powerful for decades, or more.
And if we can acknowledge the value of photography in those moments, why not treat more of our precious, but limited, time with the same care and devotion? Why not take snapshots of your experiences each day? Why not pause to consider the wonder of the natural world, either through someone else’s photograph or through your own?
And that’s what irritates me most about limitations on photography in otherwise public events or locations. And by public, I’m not talking about a walk through a city park, or an open-air concert. I’m talking about “public” events that anyone is able to attend given a paid admission price. The reason most people want to take pictures is to document what they saw, as a reminder of a particular time and place.
The amphitheater at Chautauqua has signs over the entrances which read in part, “No unauthorized use of tape recorders or cameras.” Early in our vacation week this year, it seemed as if they were no longer enforcing this prohibition. I walked into a couple of events with my dSLR hanging off my shoulder, and not a word was said. At the beginning of a Wild Kingdom presentation with Peter Gros an announcement was made that there was not to be any photography so as to not scare the animals. I understood that to mean “no flash photography”, and so I obliged. My camera did not flash once. However, they had opportunities after the presentation for people to meet one of the animals and Peter Gros, and pictures could be taken then. So that was an appropriate concession–let people document their time at the event with an up-close picture.
Later in the week, I was entering the amphitheater two hours ahead of a discussion between Roger Rosenblatt and Julie Andrews. I just happened to have my camera again but this time I was stopped–”Are you staying for Julie Andrews?” No. “OK, because cameras aren’t allowed.” I know it isn’t the usher’s job to make those decisions, but I really would like to know why ANYONE gives a damn about potential photographs of a conversation. Roger and Julie will be sitting on a stage for chrissakes. A photograph captures nothing of the essence of that conversation. At best, it would be a documentary shot for me (or whomever) as a reminder that “Oh, yes, I remember hearing Roger Rosenblatt and Julie Andrews!”
And then it becomes a question of what difference does the variation in quality between an iPhone and a dslr make in the above prohibition. Because you can be damn sure that the ushers aren’t even attempting to prevent phones from being in the audience. And with 5000 people there, the futility of preventing a single iPhone snap shot (linked shot taken by my daughter with her iPod touch, and is crappy to be sure, but documentary for her nonetheless) becomes even more ridiculous.
And that’s what kills me. Photography is a powerful part of all our lives. To deny that power hurts the people attending the event. To deny that power hurts the organizers as well for then people could have more easily shared their experiences with the world.
To all organizers of events and caretakers of attractions–please think long and hard about WHY you think photographs are hurting you. The irony, to bring this full circle, is that the picture leading this post, of people stopped in their tracks by the power of photography, is right outside the very same amphitheater that tries to limit its use in our lives.