Gluttony, Experience, and the Photographic Image

I think I failed to mention here that I am now spending a few weeks in Paris, the birth place of photography.

I am traveling with a small group of students, something I haven’t done for many years.  And traveling with a group of students, I feel obliged to do a few things I probably wouldn’t do on my own – trips to Varsailles and Notre Dame, night boat rides down the Seine, etc….

In seeing these sights, I continually find myself both amazed and perplexed by the roll of photography in defining and documenting these visits for so many people, in tourist culture.  Tens of thousands – perhaps more – photographs are made each day in the Louvre, Notre Dame, Varsailles, and each really no different than any other.  Rather than making direct, considered engagement with the brilliant and diverse art objects in each of these places, most visitors would rather make a picture to prove the visit, the record of the visit is more meaningful than any physical interaction and experience.  The picture is the experience itself.  So many heedless pursue photographs to prove presence, rather than to investigate it (and it is the investigation that provides the real meaning in photography).  The picture is made to say, I have been here, and I have the picture to prove it.

Often, I am full of cynicism about what is becoming of photography.  Either we’ve forgotten that photographs are full of complex meaning, or we are being consumed by the force of that meaning.  It seems there is no longer (un)media(ted) experience; the image itself is the experience.

William Burroughs thought language a virus; perhaps now I’ll say the same about photography and image technologies.


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