Been here in Europe a while now with a big group of nice, well-adjusted youth who complain about school work and try to save money. The youth, they travel a lot and they take the digital cameras with them. Supposed to take pictures of stuff, people, etc. and send them back home. My favorite is the picture of "me with these really cool people I (circle one) 'came to Europe with' or 'met in a hostel' (circle one) 'eating dinner in a pizzeria' or 'drinking at a nightclub' in [insert European City]." I know this picture and maybe you do, too. In it, bright-eyed young people with straight teeth and their arms around each other smile at you from a u-shaped semicircle behind a table. They look fun.
My folks got me a digital camera before I left for Europe. We figured I ought to have one after various extended road trips, two Brazilian adventures and one screwed up summer in Albuquerque. Thinking was that I ought to have taken more pictures of these things- gotta remember them, etc. Youth in an album.
Well, I just uploaded about 30 pictures to the Internet. "Shared" them with mom, dad, uncle and friends, too.
You've been "invited to view someone's photos" before, right? What a half-assed crock of manure. Looking at someone else's photos online is more or less meaningless. There isn't any hour-long story session to go with. This makes the other person's pictures make about as much sense as any of the other images out there in the world; that amount of sense, my friends and relatives, is nil.
Snapshot, picture, icon, sound bite, clip, truism, saying, quote. Our world is mostly constructed from these things. This isn't a new idea, nor even mine- ask a lit major- heh. Anyway, you look at a photo entitled "Prague." Wow. Prague. Beautiful. Incomprehensible. Not even slightly comprehensible. Next. Photo in the newspaper. With caption. Wow. Something is happening. A picture is worth a thousand words. A picture is just the tip of the iceberg. Five words. The tip of the iceberg. This is a saying that implies there is more hidden in something than is revealed. This is a saying that comes from the physical structure of an iceberg.
Increasingly we rely on this visual and oral iconography. There is always more to the story. So this concept of picture taking. What about it? My father points out there's a difference between photography and pictures, and he's right. A photograph is a piece of art. A picture is an exploitable image that is used in accord with or even in place of more information. A picture is worth a thousand words, but what's the story worth?
Went to Little Bighorn this summer, the battlefield from Custer's Last Stand. I noticed something in the museum. The U.S. Army used to take pictures of all the Indian chiefs they captured. The chiefs wear their headdresses. It meant something greater for these enemies to be caught on daguerreotype, as well. It eliminated the story and the myth-the Indian menace was reducible to a picture for public consumption and placation. In a similar way, I feel that my membership in the Army of Digital Camera Carriers Abroad does much the same thing. Prague is now conquerable and intelligible. It's comprehensible to people not here. Likewise, my social situation, when taking the u-shaped, semicircle photo, can be reduced to the word "fun."
Orwell. 1984. In it, he said that words would be reduced by simplification and combination of meaning. Well, take it a step further. Instead of "Newspeak" we formed a common picture-language (progress from Hieroglyphics? hmm-) and a collective verbiage of non-nuanced phrasing/sloganeering. We must be "resolute," can't give in, have to go for it, and mustn't count chickens before they hatch. We have buzzwords, talking points and PowerPoint lectures to limit our understandings of complex things by simplifying them to such a great degree.
Well, I always fall asleep during those lectures and sort-of half browse people's online pics. I speak in quotes and truisms but wonder about them, and maybe you do, too. We're Big Picture people, after all. We stand around the table and smile.
Aaron Kirschenfeld is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Tuesday. He wishes his official byline could read "Orbit Kirschenfeld."
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