23 June

Camera World. Many Images, But Are We Seeing One Another?

by Jon Katz
A World Of Cameras
A World Of Cameras

When we held the first Bedlam Farm Open House nearly three years ago, I noticed a number of cell phone photographers and a handful of photographers with large format digital cameras. This weekend, I saw something very different, the very visible manifestation of a new age of image-making, cameras were not something to be used shyly and tentataively in the background, they were large, expensive and ubiquitous, in everyone’s face. That was true of no one more than me.

It was a marked change for me, I am used to controlling the images in my life and on my farm and with my animals, I have been watching the last few days as images of me, Maria, the dogs and sheep and donkeys, Flo and the farm have popped up all over Facebook, on many blogs and social media sites.

I have never been so conscious of being photographed or of taking photographs. When I went into the Round House Cafe with Red to greet some visitors over breakfast, about a half-dozen cameras came out, some cell phones also, and by the time I got home, images of the visit were online.

It was a striking change, a very pronounced one, I decided right away to get my large portrait lens, I decided not to take overview and general shots of the Open House, there were scores of people doing it, there was nothing i could add. I decided to focus on portraits and faces. So did many other people. The quality of the photography was astounding, the range of color and imagery, the captures of the feeling and moment were often quite brilliant. I take photos every day, I have sold thousands of them, shown many more, yet my images were so often surpassed by the Canon’s and Nikon’s that dangled from a hundred shoulders and waists.

Photography is, I think, becoming a female art, women are more emotionally connected to images and feelings, I think, just as they are more emotionally open to animals. I was conscious this weekend of so many serious and accomplished photographers who were women. In fact, i was enveloped by serious photographers with very good equipment and a strong sense of how and when to use it. I didn’t see anyone asking too many questions about their cameras, they were  fast and ready.

If anything make me uncomfortable about all of this, including myself, it that it seemed there were no boundaries around it, everyone was on the stage every minute,we were so busy recording the events we sometimes lost the sense of them, the feeling of them. When I got up this morning to write, there was nothing to add to the outpouring of images and reports that had long preceded me. It was a radical and fascinating new experience, I had lost control of my own story, a new thing, an exciting thing, a challenging thing. And I cannot remember it ever happening before. What I have been doing to others for so much of my life was being done to me.

It seemed as if every time a dog or cute kid walked by, a dozen camera were up and pointed and clicking away. I don’t ever see much advantage in being where everybody is, I did what George Forss always tells me to do, slow down and think about my shots. It worked. But still, there was no moment that was not captured or preserved, not much to report later, the story was already told. You didn’t really even need to be here, you got the best view in the house. Something gained, something lost, the tragedy of technology.

Before she left for home, I signaled my friend Lisa to cross the street with me and take some photos of the afternoon light in the meadow. She came across the street with me. Several people leaving the farm took photos of us crossing the street, and standing in the meadow, they lovely photographs. They next morning, I saw those and added my own, and Lisa added hers. People out in the world saw the event as it happened, in several dimensions -theirs and ours, the drivers, the photographers, the resulting work.

Such a thing has never been possible before. But I sometimes wonder,  have we lost control of all of the events in our own lives? Have we been drawn once again into powerful new  technologies without really thinking about how they affect us?  Is something lost when we can never tell our story for the first time, or in our own time. Or when we are too busy focusing to see what is in front of us? Is it a loss when we never get the chance to reflect on our stories and put them in perspective? These are questions,  I don’t have the answers.  I take photos all the time, everywhere, I can’t imagine what a pain in the ass I must be to people. Or maybe I can.

Sometimes I worry that photography is getting to be a bit like Facebook messaging, if you don’t set boundaries on it, it will eat you up. It has never been easier or more rewarding to take a photo, it is never easy to take a really good one. I saw many of the photographers – myself included – winced at being photographed, yet how can we say no? We do it all the time. There must have been thousands of photos taken of our Open House.

When Maria came out of her studio and we put our arms around one another, there was a score at least of clicks and sunlight gleaming off of lenses, I felt like a Royal couple stepping out of a plane. We were startled, we looked at one another in surprise. I understand how technology works, this image thing is a revolution, I am part of it and everyone else is welcome. It is striking to say that almost all of us did really good work, no event of mine has ever been captured so skillfully and lovingly, I am, I think, a bystander at my own wedding. I sometimes consciously manipulated this, I have always wanted a photo of me and George Forss together, we put our arms around one another and a dozen cameras took the shot. I will get one of them on my wall.

By the end of each day, I told myself to put the camera down, and sit and talk with the people who had come to see us, see the animals. I found these were in some ways, the sweetest and finest moments of the day. It was as if I was seeing these people for the first time, connecting with them, understanding them. Before that, I wasn’t sure who everybody was. When I put the camera down, then I knew. There is a message in that. The next morning, I did not bring my camera to breakfast, and I had the same feeling. I could really grasp who some of these people were and get to know them. I remember those times clearly, the rest  was often a blur.

The message for me is to keep taking my photos, and I hope everyone will keep taking theirs. But I think at the next Open  House I’ll declare the last three hours of each day camera-free times (except for Red herding, of course, that would be cruel.) So we can really get to see one another and feel the stories in our lives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Email SignupEmail Signup