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The International Writers Magazine: Comment

I am a Camera
James Morford

Taking personal photographs borders on mania today. At social functions it’s not only the young snapping photographs, cameras are carried by the middle aged and senior citizens as well. Wherever people congregate numerous hand-held digital cameras are found. Indeed, by sheer numbers photographers dominate social proceedings.


A person is told to smile, their photo taken; that person then whips out their own camera and tells the photographer to smile; first photographer obliges. This process repeats countless times so that picture taking become a sort of obligation. To be without photographs indicates lack of cohesion, even identity among individuals and their peers. The old Descartes axiom, “I think, therefore I am,” has become, “I am inside a camera, therefore I exist.” 

The sharing of near instantaneous photographs is a powerful motivator of group behavior. As philosopher Marshall Mcluhan observed; “Nobody can commit photography alone.” People have become more involved with one another through photography, the photographer with their subject, the subject with their photographer (as I said, a process often quickly reversed.) These two then view their joint productions, and, as in high school or college essay exams, “compare and contrast.” The locale of their sharing is not that relevant. The process behind their preserved frame of reality is, however, quite relevant. The process is in many ways the reality. 

But did not personal photography begin long before the digital age? Not to the same degree, it didn’t. Personal photography is a geometric explosion. Fast and simple, it gratifies an impatient and greedy populace. In addition, the small size of today’s cameras, often so tiny they can be carried in a pant or shirt pocket, makes them mobile. They can travel anywhere. Also, the camera is much cheaper than in the past, and the film development process no longer needed.  You point the camera, click the button, wait a few seconds, and presto, reality becomes frozen in time, something that can be returned to again and again, and by computer sent anywhere. Your personal reality is available to the world.  

No wonder everybody takes photos and views everyone else’s photos. “Get the ceremony over with,” thinks a guest at the wedding, “so I can enjoy myself.” And since everyone has a camera, all have this same thought. It’s a way of bonding what each photographer feels as creative activity. More important, it not only adds to the event, it becomes a reason for the event.

Photographs, in a paradoxical way, mean not attending a social gathering yet still savoring the experience. Not only that, you’re able to view something over and over, and as the people are almost always smiling and showing enjoyment, it makes for a happier world. If, for variety’s sake, another view of those same people is desirable, just check another camera’s “read out.” True their subjects are also all smiling, but they are often posed a tad differently, you can see more of their arms, or their shoes, or a portion of the back of their heads. What you haven’t seen before is “filled in.”

If you happen to miss a party that follows this second gathering, through photography you can view it at a third party and see who attended the first two get-togethers. It’s not long before inside you and your peer’s cameras are months and months of life’s experience. ‘Want to understand my life? Look at me in my  friend’s photographs, and me in theirs. They tell you who I know and what I am. They are my history.” 

Of course, if you continue to frequent one social group’s functions, you might get a bit satiated seeing the same people over and over. But remember, every  camera contains photographs of family loved ones and pets, etc. This collective experience is so vast it’s easy to keep talking about photos. You won’t have time to do much else since after new photos and old photos are shown, it’s time to leave.

Environments may change, yet you can take and view photographs just about anywhere. Almost everyone possesses that museum of the past, a camera, and won’t hesitate adding to their collection. Should they, on occasion, ignore their cameras and verbally analyze where they’ve been and what they’ve seen? Not really. Since everything is inside their camera or their friend’s cameras, why describe verbally when what you see gives an over-all impression, and requires much less time and effort?

But should not people reflect on what they’ve seen, then write down their analysis as history?  No need for that. After all, years ago the Chinese, who themselves now snap millions of individual photographs per year, taught the world a picture is worth a thousand words. In our era a belief in historical progress deems this true. Although this is hard to prove by  a photograph, just about everyone seems to be trying.                                                            

© james morford Jan 12 2010

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