Saturday, February 24, 2007

In Defense of Imagination as Camera

It often presents a conundrum to have an aesthetic preference that is not only in the minority, but that prevails upon hardly anyone else. What do you say when you like rainy days, and upon encountering someone else on such an occasion, they make a comment about the undesirability of the climate? Do you acquiesce for simplicity's sake, or do you defend your principles? What if, as a general rule, the only movies you watch are comic book adaptions, and someone asked you if you saw a certain non-comic book film? Do you demur with a simple "no," or do you additionally explain your general antipathy to an entire media, at the risk of seeming alarmingly out of touch with the culture?

These are just two examples of dilemmas that I am often confronted with, bu there is yet another: I have a general dislike for personal photographs. I believe I took some Polaroid snapshots as a kid, but I think it has been about twenty years since I have taken a photograph without coercion or irony. I am particularly unenthused about the idea of photographs as mementos. I've never carried a photograph of a loved one with me (come to think of it, I've never carried a wallet, either, which is another odd aesthetic preference I'd have to admit to holding). My students find it odd that I don't have a picture of my wife on my desk. Now, I'm not a total cad. I don't prohibit my wife from displaying various photographs of us around our home, though if were up to me I'd rather look at pictures of chewpacabras.

When one holds to such an unpopular aesthetic preference, it can be incredibly validating to discover any kind of support. Such came to me when I ran across a folk-pop singer named Richard Julian, who has a song called "Photograph" (not to be confused with the Ringo song.) He sings "I prefer a memory to a photograph" and notes that the latter is two-dimensional, while the former is three-dimensional. I would actually go one step further and assert that the memory is four-dimensional, since it can include the element of time.

Some may argue that memory is notoriously fallible, and that photographs offer an objective record. I would certainly agree that memory is fallible, but I would assert that when discussing sentimentality, objectivity is hardly necessary. I'm glad photographic technology exists as a way to document certain things (such as mug shots or items up for ebay auctions), but I'll never agree that family vacations need an objective record.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I question the true historical objectivity of even "candid" photographs. Given that many photographs are staged in some way, they could be seen to be simulacra--a copy of something artificial to begin with. And even if a photograph captures a perfect fidelity of the physical nature of a scene, there is always a litany of contexts that it can never capture. The viewer of the photo will map that meaning onto every subsequent viewing of the photo. The problem is, if the purpose of the photo is to arouse a remembrance of the original event, its very artifice can overdetermine how the event is remembered. Rather than becoming an aid to recall, a mere tool, it becomes the vehicle. It forces the gaze of the viewer, it communicates to the viewer what should be considered, it replaces the nearly limitless power of the imaginative faculty with a narrowed imperative.

Plus, it can be really boring to sit there while someone forces you to look at dozens of boring travel pictures.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You lost the point.

(I've been writing stuff, then backspacing, then writing, then backspacing, and I can't find the right words. I guess that's your department, not mine.)


8:36 PM  
Blogger Boo said...

Two things
First, if you want to go chubacabara hunting sometime, I heard that Costa Rica was a good place, and they've got some great beaches.
Second, I have to disagree. While, I too do not like pictures taken of myself, I enjoy looking at pictures that we've taken on vacation, just for the feelings they evoke. I don't usually try to push them on anyone though, to me they're terribly personal.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

do you mean el chupacabra? that was the subject of an x-files episode, and for some reason the people bitten by the chupacabra turned into klingons at the end. i didn't understand.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

Yes, I meant chupacabra. I suppose I spelled it the way I did out of an unconscious desire to find out what chupacabra meat tastes like. That X-Files episode was rather odd.

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i like pie, does that count?

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Tiffany Kleymeyer said...

i can bring back a memory that one has supressed. i have a box of old photos, once i take them i throw them in there-no albums or scrapbooks- and once in a while i go through them to remember what happened on this date this year, or to see how i have changed and to bring back a memory now to focus it soley on a 4x4 sheet of colored paper

10:18 PM  
Anonymous tiffany kleymeyer said...

now = noT

10:18 PM  

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