The End of the Age of Photography (Pt. II)
The Digi and The End of the World as We Have Known and Loved it.
These Digis are very attractive little buggers. The cameras have made “photography” as ubiquitous as mosquitoes, they are everywhere. It’s hard to believe they are part of the collapse of our civilization. I was just riding the PATH from Jersey City into Manhattan and the fellow next to me was fiddling with his toy, reading something and then moving things around with the tip of his finger. Across the way another rider was playing with her toy, while three benign women sat next to him staring into space, glancing at him now and then, and wondering what they were missing. Next to me another young moron was rocking back and forth to audio coming into his brain via his plugged up ear hole and his iPod. What is it about these people that makes you want to assault them? Why can’t they just sit on the train and look around like everyone else? Why are they not more cases of people, like me, ripping these things from their users and stomping them to death? Or are there?
I was returning from Jersey City because Chuck Kelton, my printer, as in archival silver gelatin prints, floating in Dektol and fixed in Hypo, has moved his lab to New Jersey, from Union Square, in Manhattan. These prints (real prints you can touch) have made me prosper. Everyone wants them. Most museums (that’s where they preserve items for the future) own them or want to own them. I have a farm in the Hudson Valley and another one in the Rio Grande Valley and a fishing camp in Maine. All because people want real prints, my prints, that properly processed and washed and cared for can last for centuries. Simultaneously there is a stampede by individuals to own digital cameras, and digital cameras spell the end of silver prints, of any prints, of photo albums, and as I have come to realize, of our civilization.
“You push the button, We’ll do the rest.” That was George Eastman’s slogan for the camera that anyone could own, and everyone did. “The rest” meant they would develop the film and return it with prints . Which you could put into albums. Those prints survive to this day. My father’s prints survive. My father Ernst Fredrick Lyon was born in 1907 in the Saar Territory of Germany, prior to World War One. By the time he was seventeen, he did what many middle class German’s did, he made photographs. And he had made or he himself made prints (there was an Agfa sign hanging from a store, beneath his house, and when I visited in the 1990’s the camera store was still there. Its not there anymore). His albums were seven by nine inches, with heavy paper imitation leather covers, bound with a tasseled string. The small prints, some as small as three inches by one and a half, were affixed to the page by photo corners. The corners changed in the various albums he made and some of them were quite ingenious. As if some other artisan had made the corners by hand. Though the paper pages have become brittle, I can still look through these albums, and most of the pictures look pretty much like they did when he put them inside eighty five years ago. I am his son. I am touching, and holding and looking at, and smelling something my father made with his eyes and hand, when he was younger than I and all my four children are today. He was then a young man I never knew, but I can see what he saw, and can own and can touch what he made.
When I reached New Mexico, in 1970, with Stephanie Chrisman, who would become my first wife, I was given a Polaroid Swinger from some students at the UNM who said I should give it to the Chicano kids I was then filming. I liked it so much I kept it for myself. And with that camera I made my first album which I still have. Unchanged in forty years since it was put together, on its pages are Polaroid Swinger prints, original abstract drawings done in pastel by Stephanie, and writing, by myself. It includes the first pictures ever made of our first child, and second child. Among the very few tangible things to survive from this relationship is the album. The marriage ended in divorce. The first baby born is now thirty eight years old and has two children or her own. The world we lived in back then, is no more. Everything about it is now different accept for the album. It is exactly the same. Neither an artifact, nor a “picture”, nor a relic, it is an actual piece of reality of that world, that love, those people, that family as it was in 1970, and it will be that way forever. The only preservation involved was keeping it in a desk drawer, with the pages closed. It does not require any form of technology to view. It exists. That is true of all photographic prints. They are real things. All you need do is keep them in a box, and they will no doubt out live you, and probably your grandchildren.
It was my first visit to see my second grandchild that made me strap a Cannon 11 on my hip. The documentarian in me demanded that I make a record of this crying, squirming, loose shitting, sucking, little thing, that would one day, hopefully in my life time, turn into, a man. The first thing I like about the digi cameras is that at any restful moment, you can go through these miniatures, and erase them. They are gone. You can do this over and over so that you have a tighter and tighter edit of what ever you have done.
Then you can show them to your subjects, or friends, or whomever is sitting next to you, and you do this immediately. You can email them to your friends, family and clients. And then what? I suppose you can make shitty prints, either by yourself or at Walgreens, and hand them around, wondering if they will fade or last. Hopefully they will all fade very quickly. I have heard that Ilford makes a good paper with which I might approximate an album print, but after a year of trying I have not yet been able to figure out how to download the correct driver for my printer. And of course you can archive it on your hard drive. Make sure you do that, so they last at least two years. Then your hard drive will crash, as they apparently are supposed to do. But you will have back up, which will crash, and you will have progeny , your children or your sister’s children and their children – (trust me on this one, if they don’t care about your pictures, no body will), who will devote themselves to preserving all the forms of technology present and future, so that they can see your pictures. For example they might create a room devoted to electronic gizmos, with every generation of “stuff”, which they will call “The I-Museum” the sole purpose of which will be to look at your pictures. Your progeny will get together and after a B-BQ of organic veggies raised on the Moon, they will whip out a disk called DAD, and there you have it. I already have created a room like this! It is called the I-Attic. In it I have every Apple computer I’ve ever owned because each contains the appropriate years of my letters, writings, business deals, and, alas, pictures. This room of stuff has replaced what used to fit in a small file cabinet. Paper files, with, paper letters inside!
It is the acceptance of, and our insistence on this instant expendable experience that is the core of the rot that is bringing down the civilization we used to call home. This insatiable desire to own, and show off on the subway, to upgrade, and upgrade and upgrade, until you don’t have enough money left to buy a beach towel without going into debt, has reduced people to slaves of consumption. It is no difference, (accept its worse), than the consumerism of the 1950’s that destroyed the culture, and ethics and morals of the people of this country as they wallowed in segregation and created the Vietnam War. There is a reason that no one in the photographs of the civil rights movement, and hundreds or thousands, perhaps millions of people participated in that and the anti war movement, are wearing I-Pods or were using Smart phones. They didn’t need to spend a lot of money for a gizmo that would announce to the world that they were smart. They were smart!
So that is it. That digi thing you are holding is radioactive. Better watch out it doesn’t burn you and your house down. And be careful about the little children playing with it too. It might make them morph into something you don’t feel comfortable around. No amount of tattoos will turn them back into human beings. They will have to have feelings for that, and so will you.