Excessive-Compulsive Shutterbugs: Is Photography Replacing Reality?

Photographs share a fundamental sociological dynamic: the catalytic effect of photographs elicit and then collate stowed parcels of time exposing our past to rekindle memories from an enormous catalogue of life events.

 Fig-1 Photo by Stewart Butterfield
Photo by Stewart Butterfield

Everyone is surfing on the digital photography wave, and why not, the entire process of taking photographs – from pressing the shutter release button to viewing an image – has become as easy as throwing a sealed container of frozen ingredients into a microwave oven and presto, dinner is served in a few seconds!  

 As a result, a worldwide subculture of picture-taking fanatics have taken post behind camera viewfinders and handheld device screens and seem to be hiding around every corner and behind every tree.  Never mind the intrusion of “Big Brother” watching over the fictional dystopia superstate, Oceania, (depicted in George Orwell’s 1949 novel, Nineteen Eight-Four), present reality has everyone watching and capturing everyone else, and accepted as normalcy!  Yes, it really is funny and actually quite amazing when we step back and view digital photography as a new dynamic influencing culture across the globe.

 So yes, there is an overwhelming need to record everything from the lunch plate in front of me to cousin Sally’s dance rehearsal later that evening. A lot of images are snapped up every day, and many will be reviewed and deemed special enough to be uploaded to laptops and other more permanent residences in wait for post-production manipulation and storage for later viewing by family and friends. 

usvsth3m.com
usvsth3m.com

 Collectively, the catalog of hundred (and more likely, thousands of images; a result from the compelling habit of pressing and holding down the shutter-release button; a compulsion manifested out of the digital photography revolution, indeed) of pictures depicting family gatherings such as backyard birthday celebrations, snapshots of a newborn, a student celebrating his or her graduation, the rebellious teenager throwing rocks during a demonstration, documenting a do-it-yourself-project, or as simple as photographing a high-dollar dessert at an expensive restaurant, forming sentences and ultimately chapters in our lives that culminate into a final publication of life-long memories.

 Photographs share a fundamental sociological dynamic: the catalytic effect of photographs elicit and then collate stowed parcels of time exposing our past to rekindle memories from an enormous catalog of life events.  As time recedes, sometimes so do our memories.  As a result, we lose the ability to reminisce about experiences we once held dear.  Photographs provide a point of reference to assist in recall to provoke the subconscious collection of emotional diversities of our past into conscious heartfelt experiences.

Photo by Debbie McDougall
Photo by Debbie McDougall

It has always been my standpoint, one of the most effective means of enjoying the prolonged sense of time is to capture and then regularly view photos with family and friends, together with stimulating memories and experiencing the emotional journeys that result.  “The thrill found in a photograph comes from the onrush of memory” (John Berger – Keeping a Rendezvous – Vintage 1992). 

We still plan family events where I pull out the old slide projector – and more recently scanned slides presented off a 47-inch TV screen, as opposed to yesterday’s projections onto a silver screen.  But whatever the method, watching each photographic image flash by, and with it a small piece of our history, never failed to bring incredible enjoyment.  When these “slide shows” are shared with close friends and extended family the experience is – well, like living the event all over.  We spend sometimes a quarter of an hour on a series of just three or four slides as the whole clan gets caught up in the details. Each participant is engaged in photo-elicitation: extracting specific memories and comments from each projected image – smells, taste, and light are relived creating a wonderful experience sometimes provoking extreme laughter or tears of sorrow. 

Taking a break from our photographic devices – or photo-detox – as many have suggested, in an attempt to help us reengage the present, consequentially disengages our connection in preserving it. In my opinion, we do not consciously disengage the “now” when photographing a person, place or thing in hopes of experiencing it in the future. We photograph to experience the emotional impact these people or events gave us again and again long after the particular space and time has vanished.  

This being said, we must remind ourselves to enjoy the actual event while it is happening. Fully experiencing the event in our present space and time is the essence of life.  Missing out on wondrous moments are moments of lost memories to be shared with others in the future.  Capturing these moments as a photographic image is only a tool to help us in the recall, and as such, should only serve as a supplemental to, and not a replacement for experiencing life in the present.

So, don’t pay mind to critics that suggest all you folks are excessive-compulsive and losing touch with reality. Keep on snapping away, recording life from behind trees, light posts, in front of grandma or baby Catharine, and by all means, the beautifully presented dinner the waiter just brought to your table.  Societies have adopted the need to record life as part of their daily culture, and I think this is wonderful.  And honestly, for all this need to record everything and everyone, perhaps a stronger cohesion between societies is developing as a result, creating a clearer focus of each other and our place in the cosmos.


Lance A. Lewin
September 2019
Lance Lewin
Atlanta, Georgia

Hello, everyone. For the most part, I am a self-taught professional photographer learning camera skills and a wide scope of perspectives from behind the lens through a richly filled combination of studying the pioneers of photography in the mid to late 19th Century and masters of the 20th century. In addition, art history included studying painters like Johannes Vermeer and Claude Monet, for two examples, for their use of light and composition, and art and design, all in the pursuit of developing my own artistic interpretations. Finally, only traditional darkroom practices are utilized to create a final piece of fine art photography. Utilizing traditional photography techniques, I strive to capture the best composition – visually and technically - from behind the glass. Post-production consists of modifications to both luminance and chromatic dynamics (i.e. Dodge & Burning and correcting severe color cast - normally a fault of on-board camera exposure meters). Though a lot of my work cannot be deemed as "Straight Photography", nonetheless, I stay clear of trends that can lead to what some refer to as hyper-reality and composite photography, and instead, maintain a photographic canvas that does not transcend the natural psychophysical characteristics of a photograph, thus presenting work evoking a sense of reality and authenticity. “I do not object to retouching, dodging or accentuation as long as they do not interfere with the natural qualities of photographic technique”. Sadakichi Hartmann

Article Type: Columns, MISC

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