continued from previous
He could see that the urban landscape was becoming rougher further down towards the port: this was the area where the main river of debris had come rushing down from the mountain at the peak of the hurricane, following the ancient creek that had been paved over in the past hundred years. The angry river had carried with it anything and everything it ran into along its path: entire buildings that were scrubbed off the hillside, people still in them, pieces of road, fencing, cars and electronics, turning all of this into a “civilization smoothie”. All of it had been turned into sediment and deposited into a brand new delta, just as other parts of the city had been submerged. The weeds would soon grow on this fertile virgin land, hiding the metal and plastic debris below. Eventually trees could take the place of weeds, just like with those ancient civilizations in Asia that you see postcards of, which have been buried under thick jungle. Some of them were discovered only recently and by accident, others detected only through the help of sophisticated imaging technology.
For now, the jumbled-up debris of the city’s new river delta was a silent monument to the failure of civilization. John spotted a photographer pausing next to a leaning building that was half-submerged in the quicksand. He looked confused, as he wondered how to best capture the scene. Part of him was wondering whether he should even capture it, given that the image would never be able to convey the desolate, devastating feeling of that moment. He in fact sensed his own feelings of shock and grief interfering with his artistic concentration. He began to question his professional capacity:
“Why do I photograph things? Who am I and what is my role? What is the purpose of all of these pictures and who is my audience? And why do I always only get to the scene after the event has happened? Am I supposed to document, critique, comment, or am I more like a photographic drone, a paparazzi snapping images for money?”
The subject matter was beginning to make him question his faith in photography. There was almost a hopeless look in his expression as he struggled to concentrate, to detach himself from the subject matter the way a professional photographer does: able to see people, buildings and things as just shapes and shadows that will be converted into colorful pixels.
“Why do I photograph things? Am I just a curator? Or even worse, am I just a voyeur with a sick fetish?”
He gave up trying to shoot and started moving away from the building like a scared dog. As he begun to pack up his camera equipment, he looked at the building with fear and anger, almost feeling cheated. He blamed the lopsided structure for bringing him close to almost hating his favorite “hobby” today. The experience of the building half-submerged in the mud had injured him. It had brought him face to face with reality. What was to him a “hobby”, was for others the brutal reality.
“Yes, I must be some kind of a drone” he decided to himself.
John left the photographer behind to wrestle with his own thoughts as he took a left turn on the road that gently sloped up, and away from the beach. This was a much more intact part of the city. The evening streetlights came on just as he hit the pavement, almost as if they were responding to him. A couple of people were seen crossing the street half a mile down, rushing to beat the darkness even though curfew had been lifted days ago. He turned left again, on the final stretch towards his new neighborhood in what was now the remains of the central business district. The few mimosa trees that had survived along the pavement were beginning to fill the balmy summer air with their luxurious peach evening scent. John looked up towards the blossoms that reached down to almost human height. He closed his eyes as he brought a low-hanging branch close to his face and took a deep breath. He imagined the scent as it diffused in the summer air, rising above the buildings, expanding into the air as it became fainter and fainter, before merging into the darkness. He was almost home.
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George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books
2 thoughts on “A New Earth – Why do I photograph things?”
Perfect expression, civilization smoothie. This definitely is an occurrence and description of now as well.
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