thinking with pictures – metaphors that let you see the subject from new angles

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Source window light versus same light outdoors

2 photos of same light - one via the window, the other outside

Looking north the morning light in the east window gives precious glow; the same look outdoors, though, glows not

Painters knew it long ago: keeping the subject near the light from a (north-facing*) window is the sweetest, most flattering kind of illumination. By why should this be so? One reason is the fact that the sun travels from a point low on the south horizon in winter solstice until the summer solstice, where it reaches high above the south horizon, but always shines onto the northern sky. So a north-facing window has little or no sun directly admitted. Instead the light from the north window comes reflected from the blue dome of sky. It is indirect, diffused, and cooler in color wavelength when contrasted to the window light from the non-north windows.

But there is another reason for the magical quality of window-sourced light. Looking at the two pictures, above, the sunlight and the lens direction is very similar, taken within 5 minutes of each other. And yet the light falling on the shower curtain is so delicate and finely graduated as it grows weaker in proportion to the distance from the window source. But the outdoor photo is filled with an equally spread field of light that seems much less remarkable. In other words, when the sunlight is transformed through the window panes to act like a point source of light, then the directionality and strength is smoothly translated onto the subject. But when flooded with the same sun’s light outdoors, directionality is multi-sided and the strength of the light does not vary, thus producing less pronounced presence or awareness of defined light of a finite and particular quality.

Perhaps something similar is at play in the world of ideas, reflection, and deduction. Here, too, perhaps the sweetest light is one that is funneled through a frame to act like a single source, instead of an all-surrounding sameness. In this way the degrees of brightness can be sensed with deliberate purpose and meaning, rather than to face a uniform brightness over all surfaces, no matter the distance from that source of light. For example, an idea that is illuminated with the same light as all other subjects will not stand out with clear definition. And by shining a point-source of light on the idea, each facet stands out from the others more clearly. In other words, in the same way that window borne sunlight is often superior to the same light from the sun encountered outdoors in the open air, so too of thoughts and ideas that can be shown in best light by giving them the equivalent to window-lighting, something that is directional and with distance away from the light that corresponds with weaker light, thus adding to the perception of surface, depth, and dimensionality.

Even without drawing a figurative parallel between seeing and thinking, though, the beauty of the window-sourced light can be enjoyed in strictly visual terms alone. It benefits not only artists, but also lookers who see only with their eyes, unaided by lens or drawing instruments.

*Privileging the north-facing windows presumes the northern hemisphere. Standing in the opposite hemisphere the privileged light would be reversed: southern hemisphere and south-facing windows.


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A-ha moments in photo-walks, the thrill of serendipity

red maple leaves newly sprung

New red maple leaves at base of tree trunk [click to view in full]

The Persian story of Princess Serendeep is filled with Forrest Gump moments where surprising events occur, propelling the story forward. Serendipitous flashes of insight, realization, epiphany, or visual delight in the play of shadows, texture, line, and color seem to be a central source of satisfaction for Street Photography and ordinary photowalks in search of subjects to compose and capture, whether the arena is wide-open landscape, building interiors, the macro world, or unfolding live events on stage or in streams of consciousness during the course of ordinary life.

At late morning today the glossy luster of newly sprung maple leaves presented themselves during my walk. So I went back soon afterwards with a camera to capture this picture to serve as a writing prompt for the small thrill of discovery felt when being surprised at a great beauty spotted unexpectedly. A similar excitement can come in the world of ideas and learning a skill or a body of knowledge. Every so often seemingly unrelated pieces intersect and the resulting recognition of something significant fills one’s heart for a moment. Perhaps the thrill of the hunt for new understanding, unexpected beauty, or elegant solutions to a problem is one of the drivers that makes a person press on, looking for the next meaningful thing.

Two quotes come to mind with regard to seeking or mindfully noticing the things one is surrounded with. There is a saying among photographers to the effect that “amateurs talk about gear; professionals money; and artists light.” In other words the preoccupations that fill the person’s mind in each of these capacities can differ widely. The other quote appears in Kenneth Tunnell’s 2019 book, Seeing the Unseen, in which he quotes Ulrich,

screenshot of p.2 Seeing the Unseen

from page 2, Seeing the Unseen (click for full-size image file)

“…Taking delight in… embracing questions and discovery… fundamental qualities shared by both the artist and seeker” nicely describes those serendipitous moments when one stops to pay attention and says “ah – there now is a photo.”

So the same spark of excitement seems to reward the person who looks with care, with or without lens, and the person who thinks with care, with or without recording medium. Truly, seeing and thinking seem to run in parallel and sometimes are integral to one another.

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Living in a world without cameras long ago?

cave painting at Lascaux, France

Visual expression long before the Camera Obscura or glass plates or film or digital sensors [Creative Commons]

Knowing how much one’s daily experience is mediated by the low cost and high quality ability to snap a (digital) photo for work or for play, suppose instead living at a point in time when there were no cameras; or if cameras were newly emerging, then at least they were cumbersome and not a practical part of most people’s waking hours and the thoughts that preoccupy them. This is a vast subject that touches on the many influences of our taken-for-granted visual recording media. There is the habit of thinking about what is recognizable as a “photo opportunity” or an occasion worthy of pausing to document a place, a moment, and an assembly of faces to be included (or excluded) from the frame. And there is the growing awareness of light and shadow, texture and line, color, and depth of field from foreground the background. The more one takes pictures or at least mentally composes them, the more one’s view of the world is affected by this heightened sense of form, light, mass, and so on. Extending this line of thinking to look at the influence of frequent camera use and expectations stemming from familiar presence of a lens (and channels for sharing semi or fully publicly), there are the many purposes that pictures (not to mention video clips, as well) can be used for: aide-de-memoir and for future reference, documentary evidence or claim to be filed, souvenir of places traveled or task undertaken, group photos to mark an event, surveillance (motion-activated sensors), artistic expression (learning process or finished work), social analysis (e.g. non-verbal communication), archiving of process or skill, portfolio of one’s years of career accomplishments, criminal abuses, commercial advertising as well as Public Service campaigns, ephemeral outburst (e.g. private message to others or public Twitter reporting of one’s moment to moment passage through the day), and the many other purposes that have continued since the first consumer-adopted cameras and grow more varied as resourceful users experiment with ways to harness visual communication on portable and powerful cameras.

After an image is created then there is the life of the image that may continue for many lifetimes, far from its original purpose, owners, and visibility by others, public or private, copyrighted or public domain. And when society changes, the original context for a photo may fade away and the new cultural standards may add new meaning to the old picture. The catalog of social gaffes in Richard Chalfen’s book (2012), Photo Gaffes – Family snapshots and social dilemmas, (Dog Ear Publishing) along with his 1987 study of family albums and their meanings, creation, and uses (Snapshot Versions of Life) go a long way to map out the ways that photographs occupy important parts of individual and group lives; both the making of pictures and the display or other social uses of those images.

Returning to the opening question about how different modern life would be with no cameras to record and then communicate beauty or cataclysm, it is truly hard to imagine, so pervasive has image making become. The answer to this question surely has many dimensions, though. In no particular order, and touching both the seeing & making of pictures, as well as their uses thereafter, here is a listing that points to the many effects of having cameras and pictures more or less ubiquitous across one’s life span. Awareness of time is shaped by photography because the viewer can travel back in time to younger years and locations, and even to distant shores and eras far outside of one’s own (visual) experience to the very beginnings of lens-assisted drawings (the camera obscura) and early photo reproduction on copper plate, paper or glass plates. Knowledge and awareness of self by routinely using both the back-facing (outward) camera and the front-facing (photographer’s face) has altered these days. Masses of visual detail and other information frozen in time can be studied to distill meanings, adjudicate the finish line of a race or determine legal responsibility, for example. Memory can be jogged or ideas can be prompted from recorded images, either alone or in photo sets that give multiple perspectives on a matter. Knowledge of the physical world can be extended by macro, micro, or high-shutter speed (and flash) photography to show things ordinarily not discernible to the naked eye. The burden of visual riches, such as annotating, organizing (indexing?), storing, displaying, protecting from fire or sun-exposure, caring for negatives or electronic memory media is seldom acknowledged but does cumulatively consume otherwise productive lives. An entire essay could be written about economic aspects of making, marketing, distributing, repairing cameras; not to mention the many professional services for making and developing film and photo prints and later digital imagery. The market for new and improved devices thrills potential buyers and enthusiasts of technology, functionality, and cleverly designed and crafted cameras. But having to research which camera suits one’s needs at present or one’s ambitions for future prowess is another burden of modern consumers. Once purchased, the property requires mastery of the manual, care and maintenance, among other things. Although pocket-sized cameras in the form of cellphones means that most news events and personal experiences can be captured, still there is a small corner of one’s mind that must remember to take the photo, or indeed to remember to take along the device with a view to recording a subject. By contrast, the days of no camera were free of this need to remember the camera, and to remember to take the photo (possibly to share with others).

In conclusion, to consider the many effects of cameras and the images they produce is to delve into so many different facets of lived experience, from time-consciousness and sense of momentousness (photo worthy; photo humorous; photo documenting) to consumer preoccupations and personal archiving. A book length investigation might do the subject justice, but so pervasive is visual communication by lens capture that this brief blog article can only touch the surface. Perhaps the question of “how life would differ if no written form of language existed” would be similarly multi-faceted. An even more extreme reach back into prehistory would be to wonder in a primate sort of way “how life would differ if no spoken form of language existed.” But for now, it is enough to play with the idea that there are many consequences and then further implications that come from carrying and using cameras everyday for self, for recreation, or for work and public discourse.

The experience of living in a society bereft of cameras and mass produced and distributed visual media surely is different to what is normal, taken for granted, and is expected. In place of engaging with a place or moment with a lens, it would be other visual media or, more frequently, verbal forms of recording and sharing, reflecting or responding that people would resort to. All of the time, expense, energy, aspiration and imagination currently used for picture taking would be free for other cares and concerns. Awareness of self-image (social status or reputation yes, but visual likeness less so) would be less prominent than today. And visual literacy (knowing how to make pictures and use them, judging quality of one image over another) would be less well developed than among people living now, too. All in all the world without cameras would both be richer and poorer; richer for the importance of verbal arts, but poorer for the absence of vast visual detail. Perhaps this contrast in society with versus without cameras is something like a story told in print versus told on the silver screen.

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Paradox – seemingly solid, but also so fragile

collage photo with old camera on left, contact sheet at center, cellphone at right

photography old and new; from glass plate to silicon chip (author photo; clip art royalty free)

Recording the lens image focused sharply to a pin-point on chemically prepared plates of glass, or sheets of light-sensitive paper made this paradox very apparent because a bump, tear, light-leak, weakened chemical solution, or bit of dust, among other things, could ruin the image-making process. Of course, even when a successful image was produced and then mounted or framed for display, the wood, glass, and paper result could easily be damaged or destroyed. The archival longevity is not known beyond the current age of earliest surviving images; maybe 175 years or so in some cases, much less for images poorly processed or ones exposed to pollution, extremes of temperature, humidity, light, and so on.

And yet during the few seconds or hours that a person’s eyes rest on the two dimensional composition and create a mental image perhaps in three dimensions or four (time’s moment of capture and subsequent passing), the scene and subject do seem imperishable and long-lasting. It is paradoxical that the subject and the momentary viewing experience can give a sense of immortality and hyper-real status to a subject, despite the precarious process once used to make images and then the risks that the photographs face once they have been produced for display, sharing, publication, or filing away in a shoe box or some more institutional setting.

Now with the leap from film, chemicals, and printing paper to pixel-packed electronic sensors to receive the sharply focused light through the lens, much of the fragile chain of events has collapsed. The person with camera and computer or Internet connection can go from shutter release to sharing around the world in moments, with or without first editing. The image capture and image viewing are only separated by a few moments, not hours needed to dip into chemicals to develop the negative and more chemicals to transfer the image to a positive exposed on light sensitive paper to be developed and fixed for perpetuity. But also the process of digital photography is still a delicate matter, and the resulting image may now be even more likely to disappear than the ones printed onto paper.

These are ruminations about the paradoxical character of photographs giving viewers the feeling of solid, enduring power of documentary reality while at the same time the photography is ephemeral to compose (only a fraction of a second is faithfully represented; what took place before and after the moment may well lack the critical drama, line, exposure and shadow, for instance), precarious to produce so that others may see it, and fragile to preserve or conserve. But perhaps there is a similar paradox in human relationships with other creatures – human or not, as well as one’s relationship to the life passage from earliest memory to the time of personal extinction and memories bequeathed to those who follow to keep. That is to say, while daily routines and places visited by habit may seem to be solid and enduring, paradoxically it is only through a tenuous series of forces, assumptions, agreements, and other supporting infrastructure that this perception of stability is sustained. A disaster, accident, or other emergency can quickly turn that imagined solidness into dust and wreckage. In this way, both the fragility and the imagined solid durability of human experience is paralleled in the experience of composing, producing a finished form to display or share, and then the effort to care for that image into the future: these matters are both fleetingly fragile and also imagined to be forever frozen in time.

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Omniscient lens? Your glass as your brain and heart (mind).

panorama, 2018 Grand Rapids, Michigan Pow Wow (click for full size)

Doubtless the love of well-made gear, the aesthetic of “form follows function” (functionalism), and the visual delight in capturing a moment in time against the flow of unrelenting change all feed into the Joy of Photography. Before images could be fixed onto sensitized paper, and later glass or film negatives, and then positives, one could only sketch impressionistically, and for some hands, the likeness could be almost photographic in precision and detail. But thinking at greater length, why does it give a person the sense of power and competence when pointing a lens toward a subject or scene that presents itself and clicking the shutter release?


Clues from (English) language give some ideas about the connection between camera and feelings of power (omnipotence) or knowledge (omniscience) in one’s hands: expressions like “I see (what you mean),” “the significance is crystal clear” (or muddy), “let’s focus on what matters,” “our insight tells us,” “can you picture this,” “we envision that,” “do they foresee complications,” “in hindsight we now know,” and “out of sight – out of mind.” In these phrases the act of visual processing and mental recognition or evaluation are joined together. And since a lens is a way to magnify (telephoto lens) or expand the field of view (wide-angle lens), and since a camera is a way to document a subject or a context, it only seems natural that this same experience of “seeing is knowing” should be applied to picture taking, whether by Point-and-Shoot cellphone camera or with tripod-mounted heavy equipment. In other words, a camera fits directly into the equation that seeing is believing, pictures never lie, and photographic memory is a blessing  and a curse.


In all these instances it is the lens that touches one’s mind’s eye, one’s awareness, one’s caring about a subject. And while English language uses one word for emotional response (‘in my heart’) and a different word for analytical response (‘in my mind’), a language like Japanese uses just one word to refer to one’s waking self that combines heart-mind (‘kokoro‘). Seen from another angle, the English language combines knowing  a subject by personal experience (“I know that place well”) with knowing a subject descriptively by a set of facts (“I know the answer to this arithmetic problem”), but languages like Spanish or French use separate verbs to mean ‘know a fact’ versus ‘know a subject by personal connection or through one’s own experience’.


So to return to the question about reasons why shooting pictures can fill a person with feelings of power, potential, control (complexity is frozen in place, can be measured or studied), it seems that the psychological equation of “to see it is to know it” leads directly to the derivative logic, “to record what you see is to know it even better.” But, of course, photographers who have revisited earlier places or earlier images they have recorded will admit that many meanings have escaped their younger mind and their lens. In summary, fancy or simple gear may induce feelings of competence and documentary clarity, but the true and complete meaning only comes with interpretation and what is brought to the visual record.


The lens is just one step in producing knowledge for self and for others of this time and future generations, too. And as other photographers have said, taking pictures is a way to seek answers to what is on one’s own mind. In some instances it concerns what is behind the lens as much as it does what fills the composition in front of the lens.

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Snapshot statement vs. Photo paragraph


Most people make a single statement with single emphasis; others invite the eye to wander across the field of view [credit: for 19 September 2018, screenshot sampling]

In the beginning a person with a camera is drawn to single subjects in isolation from the context of meaning, status, space or time. It is the thing itself that they wish to capture as a frozen moment – unchanging for eternity. The result is something small, like a single word or phrase. As one gains technical skills at controlling the composition and exposure with increasingly sophisticated gear and post-processing tools, the production values improve and the thing in and of itself attracts attention. It gives visual pleasure for the rich quality that is faithfully communicated, or is even improved more than the visual experience of the original subject in its actual setting, as light quality is enhanced, color is given added or decreased saturation, distractions are minimized, and so on. The art of timing and standpoint may develop, too, culminating in the wonder of and the appreciation for Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment.

But after seeing and composing enough single-subject photos, some people become interested in the contrasts, juxtaposition, or interplay of surrounding ideas, symbols, or other subjects nearby or ones suggested by their absence. These photos are analogous to paragraphs or even short stories, compared to the single declarative sentence or question that is expressed by a snapshot that attracts the viewer’s eye only momentarily. Instead, these wider or more complicated scenes invite lingering looks all around the frame, traveling from background to middle and foreground and then in return. Perhaps the eye follows the lines of composition, figures placed in each field of the frame, or the play of texture and light/shadow. Whatever it may be, these photographic tableaux seem to be full of meanings, interpretations, or settings for what is about to take place (or the scene of something that is now underway; or what has happened at the scene).

Once one’s taste for photographic scenes goes beyond a single statement, exclamation point, or question mark, then it becomes easier to spot eloquent compositions of this kind. Likewise, it becomes easier to notice, compose, capture, and convey scenes like this to others. But how far along this path could a photo go: beyond the single phrase and then an extended paragraph, could a photo all by itself, without the support of caption or indeed with no accompanying written context, be able to convey several paragraphs of meaning, or even present an entire (dramatic) story from the setting and cast of characters, to the complicating factors or antagonists in view (or suggested), to the resolution? That is an open question; one worth consideration and something worth trying to photograph, too. Norman Rockwell‘s visual representations succeeded this way, again and again.

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Handy tools – life before cameras

photo showing knife in left hand, smartphone camera in right hand

ubiquitous cameras affect the ways we move through life as a series of framed, captured moments

Setting off to buy a few groceries on a glorious cool morning filled with bright light, my eye scanned all the attractive subjects that might be worth photographing (or making a video snapshot, if audio or isolated element in motion were just right). For some reason, I stopped my daydream and wondered how different the sunlit scenes would appear to a person living at a time or place where no cameras were known, or at least were rare and unfamiliar in one’s ordinary routines of daily experience. Since cell phones bring recording of still and moving images, as well as sound capture into the hands of so many people, it is hard to appreciate the absence of visual representations now available by the simple motion of nothing more than to swipe, pinch, or tap the screen.

As a child I grew up with film cameras: first was the family’s slightly bulky flashbulb point-and-shoot device using a roll of 120 or 620 film. Then came the Kodak Instamatic for color snapshots of the late 1960s and middle 1970s before moving to the even more compact form factor of the “Pocket Instamatic” 110 cartridges of film (13x17mm negatives) that were so cheap that we children got our very own camera and could appear on the other side of the lens. In those days, picture taking was fairly informal, encouraged by the consumer advertising that showed happy people snapping away with abandon. But with film sold in 12 exposures and later 20 exposures (28×28 mm negatives), each shutter release brought you nearer to the end. So shots tended to be used somewhat sparingly, with many of the shots commemorative (family events or vacations and photo spots with signage to direct tourists to fixed compositions).

Later in high school and the chance to join the photo-club with reusable 35mm cassettes of black and white film bringing the cost down to a few pennies per shot, plus the price of darkroom chemicals and paper, I began to shoot more and more pictures and carried a camera to places and subjects that might not have seemed typical when using the old consumer, point-and-shoot gear. But even with the capacity to shoot rolls loaded with 36 exposures, since there was a price in money and chemicals and DIY effort involved, the act of recognizing an interesting subject, lighting, or angle would involve some consciousness of expense. In other words the picture-taking experience was not frictionless because there were (for a teenager of limited means, at least) costs involved every time a picture was framed, the focus double-checked, and any adjustments to the light meter’s suggested exposure were figured into the shutter release.

What remained the same in those earliest moments of parents allowing me to take a picture with the family camera, and later with me taking my own shots with my own enthusiast equipment, was the sense of clear boundaries and intention about setting forth to “take pictures.” In other words, some deliberateness and possibly preparation was needed before packing a camera and rolls of film, and then seeking out a specific subject; or in a photo walk, waiting for spontaneous subjects to present themselves. By contrast, the presence of a good cell phone camera within one’s reach most anywhere and anytime in which price per exposure is practically no-cost means that people have gotten used to snapping pictures for many purposes other than recording a family event or special trip. Now it is common to use a camera to remember parking location, product information, insurance claim or inventory, special food or drink, maps and other helpful signage, and so on.

The visual anthropologist Richard Chalfen has studied family photo albums since the time before digital photography, both in USA and in Japan, among other places. In his book, Snapshot Versions of Life, he says that pictures express who belongs in or out of a group; it is a kind of boundary of inclusion or exclusion. As such the lens we use to capture subjects of significance, value, or memory will reflect who we are; who we wish to see ourselves as, or what we hope to be true or one day to become true. With the lack of friction or cost of cell phone snapshots, the selfie is perhaps an extreme extension of Chalfen’s observations of the sociological frame that the photograph expresses. With self posed near famous site, person, or occasion, the resulting photo says “I was here” and “this who I am” and by process of association, I claim some of the halo effect that glows from this precious place, person, or thing.

So the long history of photography seems to culminate at this moment with a flowering of self-representation, self-examination, and self-referential meaning; looking inward rather than seeking to engage and understand the surrounding landscape of cultures, risks and opportunities, or the Big Questions of life that the humanities is filled with. But is it possible to travel backward along the sequence of developments: from digital cameras on so many portable devices, to the consumer film cartridges of 12 exposures color and before that black and white, to the large-capacity Kodak “Brownie Box” camera of the 1900s – 1940s, back to the advent of portable 35 mm photojournalism with the original Leica, and before that the 4″x 5″ film plates of the news photographers in the early years of the 1900s, and before that the clunkier glass plates of studio and field cameras like those of Mathew Brady and the others traveling out west and around the battlefields of the U.S. Civil War. Going back into the 1840s and earlier is the realm of experimenters of the Daguerreotype. Before a scene could be focused onto a chemically treated metal plate and fixed with permanence by chemical treatment, there was the camera obscura that painters and sketch makers and map makers could use: the lens could focus on the ground glass at the rear, and under the shielding darkness of a cloak, the artists could trace the lines of a composition with precision on paper and produce a final image that is almost photographic in detail and perspective, thanks to the precision lens. Each of these moments in camera history affected the kinds of subjects that were worth recording, sharing, or publishing for sale.

In the beginning it was very costly to make a picture and only very high value incidents would be memorialized and displayed or sold. Most people in the industrialized societies seldom saw a photographer or appeared themselves in the frame until the 1920s or later, when low cost Box Cameras like the Kodak Brownie (spools of 127 film, slightly smaller than the 120 rolls) and the associated system of film processing and photo printing facilities were in business. Around this time and in the generation before there were subscription services to deliver a few stereoscopic postcards of world events or famous places to homes to enjoy with their very own stereoscopic viewer frame. But the act of making one’s one decision about what is worth capturing and then going about the composition and pressing the shutter only came with the cheap and increasingly common point and shoot cameras. Even then, however, it would not be a casual affair to tote the box camera around in search of subjects. Instead it would be a wedding, funeral, family reunion, or some other part of the life cycle that would be recorded. The rest of one’s waking consciousness and daily routines would be less about documentary considerations of representing one’s day or lifetime, but instead would be focused on fulfilling obligations, watching for liabilities to avoid or opportunities to seize. In other words, in the time before ubiquitous cameras to record self or others, the way to view the world was in terms of instrumental goals: things to accomplish, respect to gain, criticism to avoid, expectations to fulfill, dreams to launch, and so on.

One’s eye took in the surroundings differently to today’s lens-preoccupied thinking. Life was not a series of photo opportunities, but was a big and wonderful adventure that one was immersed in; a player on the field, rather than a spectator on the sidelines. As such, a person in the time before cameras would set off in the morning with money in pocket, hat to protect from the elements and signal one’s style, and perhaps a pocket knife, pocket watch and gold chain, pad and paper, make-up mirror, or some other handy tool that was useful in the day to day events in one’s life.

Back in 1984 a relative of mine traveled abroad to visit my overseas location and the people I had gotten to know there. It was a once-in-a-lifetime voyage and yet I was puzzled by his lack of camera. During his military service in the 1950s he had obtained a tiny Minox spy camera, not much bigger than a pocket lighter. So he must have once had some photography interest or knowledge. When asked about the lack of camera now, he answered that carrying a camera tended to blinker his vision to see and seek subjects that conformed with ideas of what would make “a good picture.” There is not too much harm from picture taking; indeed, many people discover that their powers of (detail) observation sharpen when carrying camera or binoculars. They tend to use whatever tool is at hand to engage the world. But he made the deliberate decision to experience the time and place with only a journal and pen.

Who can say: does formal, deliberate, ponderous (e.g. sheet film or tripod-dependent) camera shooting add value or add boundaries to one’s engagement in a place and time, and the relationships one forms as rapport builds and context deepens? Does less formal, simpler, point-and-shoot photography streamline the form factor so that many more occasions can be captured than by the slow shooting, above? And if camera work does indeed amplify the value to self and the ability to communicate those experiences to others, does it follow that better camera skill and a bigger scale of visual recording will also increase the communication power of the work? Taken all the way to the extreme, does ubiquitous camera use with the proliferation of cell phone shooting lead to saturation, so that life and the recording of life blur together until the meaning of engaging a place and time is not about actively grappling with conditions on the ground (a player on the field), but instead consists of experiences of representing the conditions on the ground (a spectator on the sidelines).

I suspect that cameras that are rarely seen or experienced (1870), or ones that are ubiquitous (2018) act like a mirror. They are extremely useful and they are also sources of fascination. They may produce additional narcissism and they may distract a person from active engagement in their social environment and physical ecosystem. On balance they seem to do more good than harm, but like most things that are good, they must still be used in moderation and with some degree of care; not used in ways that are thoughtless or mindless, but instead taken into one’s hand and brought to one’s eye deliberately. It is hard to appreciate truly the experience of a place or time in which all cameras are absent and only hand-drawn visual representation is possible. Simply locking one’s own gear in a drawer for a week or a year cannot remove the built-in habits of thinking and seeing accumulated from years of taking pictures.