You perhaps saw this recent story in the news about our ‘drowning in a sea of images’. It’s an interesting view, and, I believe, a very valid point. Any kind of inundation makes staying afloat a difficult task. And sometimes it’s impossible.
A photographer and artist I admire, Chase Jarvis, recently posted a response to this on his blog, about how we’re not drowning, but getting richer with this unabating torrent of images. That’s kind of a weird take on it. What kind of flood can we swim through?
Chase argues “shouldn’t it be said that we’re not drowning in photography at all, that we’re perhaps getting metaphorically rich off more and more of these veins of gold?”
“veins of gold”? Gold has value because it’s rare. And because it’s durable. If gold were produced quite as readily as iphone “pics” seem to be, and had a similar lifespan of any digital file, it wouldn’t cost eighteen hundred dollars an ounce right now. I’d suggest a better chemical analogy might be carbon dioxide. CO2 seems to be pretty prevalent right now, becoming ever more so, and, contrary to what the s(k)eptics tell ya, it’s not enriching our world.
I suspect the ever increasing barrage of images only serves to dilute how we respond to great work. When we DO see an image of value, we no longer know how to savor it. Or why. Images (and content in general) are thrown at us so constantly, we can’t begin to appreciate them. We don’t have time, and we don’t have the interest. We don’t have the capability. Humans are creatures of habit; we’re being conditioned, and ever more strongly today, to quickly move on to what’s next, to discard and proceed, to eat on the run. We don’t know how to sit and relish some tasty tidbit.
We have no idea what we’re missing. I’ll quote Wendell Berry (always good form):
“Nothing is more pleasing or heartening than a plate of nourishing, tasty, beautiful food artfully and lovingly prepated. Anything less is unhealthy as well as a desecration”. – Health Is Membership, from Another Turn of the Crank. (Buy yourself this book. And then buy it for someone else. The first sentence above could be well used, metaphorically, to describe Wendell’s writing)
Chase’s argument, in my opinion, is like arguing that the world of fast food, of sliced Wonder Bread and pre-packaged everything somehow improves our diet over eating home baked bread (which, I can assure you, after my delicious sandwich on wheat today, it does not!) and garden grown veggies. We’re not getting richer on a diet of genetically modified grains; and we’re not getting richer via an endless deluge of pics that we’ll maybe see one time before they’re deleted or lost on some corrupted hard drive. Simply because it’s abundant and easily produced doesn’t mean we’re prospering because of it.
But the real killer, the coup de grâce in the post is this statement: “I prefer to make the argument that the snapshot has become perhaps the most human, the most important photography of our modern era.” (my emph. added)
“our”? His maybe. I’m not sure he and I live in the same universe, nevermind era. This statement is simply wrong on so many levels. “The snapshot is the most human photography of the modern era”? What an absurdly bizarre comment from a great photographer and artist. Is the text message the most human literature of the modern era? A 140 character tweet? Are 30 second advertisements on TV the most important film of the modern era? A junior burger the most human of our culinary efforts? Are
This is not simply incorrect, it’s precisely the kind of thing that contributes to the drowning. We’re also drowning, you see, in a sea of blogs and articles and essays and posts and tweets and shares and retweets and circles and status updates and texts and … well .. squalor.Everyone’s so keen to make the most noise, and get heard, they’ll write anything, about anything, to ask for attention. Someone writes an article about how noisy the world is? Respond with an article about how rich our ears are. Someone writes an article about how the internet world is too hectic? Respond with an article about slovenly you used to be. Someone writes a great article about anything? You retweet it; you don’t actually READ it, you retweet it. That, imo, is drowning.
Now, if Chase COULD support his point of view with the odd coincidence that this sea of images has coincided with the most expensive price ever paid for a pic. But he didn’t. 🙂
What we don’t need is people like Chase adding to the nonsense; he’s usually an astute and insightful guy, and I enjoy his work. A lot. But this kind of post is all of what’s wrong with the internet, the digital age, and precisely what the original column he mentions is in reference to.
PS: The undrowned image above was taken on my trip to the Arrigetch Peaks, in Gates of the Arctic National Park, this past fall. And not with a telephone.