I thought I might share a small bunch of the clouds that I and my iPhone have enjoyed witnessing over the last week in Sydney. A lot of cool clouds but no really cool rain.
You want to know the truth? I’ve had enough of this nonsense. I guess I’ve been seeing it for about three or so years now and to begin with I thought it was curious, interesting, a quirk of the times we live in, but today, and I don’t know why this had to be the day, I just decided that I’ve had enough of it and I’m going to speak out about it. I have no idea whether making this statement will make one jot of difference to this ‘phenomenon’ but at least I will have made a record of my objection and can pray that maybe, just maybe, people will begin to show just a little more awareness of how irritating it is.
What on earth am I squawking on about this time? There’ll be no pictures in this rant, for reasons that will become obvious, so let me ‘paint’ a picture for you. Here I am, in Bangkok, end of another shoot, resting up before flying back to Sydney this evening. I’m having lunch by the pool, feeling about as good as James Brown ( back when he was feeling..... ), relaxed, minding my own business generally; but my eye is drawn camera left, to this guy, fully dressed, arm outstretched, holding out his ‘smart’ phone, walking, panning, capturing the pool area in all its glory, presumably as a moving picture show. Ok so it’s possible that he has promised his wife/girl-friend/children/best buddy or someone not lucky enough to be at this hotel, that he’ll send some shots. That would be lovely. The thing that gets me though is that half way through this shot that could potentially rival Ray Liota’s club entry scene in Goodfellas, while still walking, still shooting, he just looks somewhere completely different, taking his eye off the shot altogether for two or three seconds before resuming this act of spray coverage. Is this cause for a full blown rant you wonder? On a one off? clearly no, I’d need to check myself into a clinic if I thought so. But firstly, and slightly sadly surreally, this poor subject of rant was followed by another not far behind ( maybe they’re married to twin sisters or something, both under threat of death if they default on their promise ). This guy was doing much the same. Were they making some sort of generalised video of the state of the garden around the pool or at least doing it as part of a survey of some sort? I wish they were but I seriously doubt it. Body language and expression etc suggested not. My suspicion is that they are simply new generation home movie makers, going through the motions with little idea of where they will lead.
Some of you might remember home movie makers. Those lovely people who took their Super 8 mm film cameras on their holidays and shot landmarks etc so that when they got home they could invite their friends and neighbours around for a drink and sandwich while the offending film maker showed off the fruits of his ( usually his not her) efforts. Occasionally the film maker in question had developed some skills and the travelogue had a narrative of sorts, possibly even edited, to much unspoken relief from the audience. And traditionally there was usually a revenge screening from other members of the party at some other times of the year. Regardless it was at least cause for a social gathering and in the days when travel was still 'mysterious' the first hand narrative that often accompanied this moving picture show was even, occasionally, interesting.
But now, and I promise to drop the blood pressure very soon, it’s generally just shit heaped upon shit. It goes nowhere. Sure You Tube is the suppository for some of this material but of the gazillion megapixels of captured material I suspect less than .5% is saved from being jettisoned into the virtual atmosphere ( is that the ‘almostphere’?)
Next time you’re lucky enough to visit one of the world’s great galleries or sights of historic significance have a look around you at the people ( in a pause from marveling at the art ) and take note of the number of point and shoot cameras or phones that are spraying the walls with zeros and ones. It’s just too much. It’s so appalling I’m calling for a global moratorium on random snapping. Sure we should all have our freedom to do as we please in most respects but in actual fact that is exactly what this is about: respect. People of the world put down the cameras and look; look now. Respect where you are and why. Forget some plan to race through the gallery as quickly as possibly creating your own catalogue for personal perusal at a table for four later, consequently resolving the need for conversation. Just don’t go if that’s your plan, google the bloody art, get fifteen variously pixelated pics in Google image and ‘check it out’. Then real art and culture lovers can have more oxygen, space and an even greater experience. Put away the phones and happy snappers and enjoy the scene, whatever it might be, for what it is now.
This isn't photographic snobbery I assure you. It’s just gob smacked frustration at this rampant culture of spray camming everything in sight. Granted it’s probably not physically polluting because I expect most of it is deleted almost as fast as it’s ‘created’, so that’s a positive. I do suspect however that it’s mentally polluting, causing us, as a species, to become more and more obsessed with filling our lonely and self conscious time, especially away from our home environments, with a contemporary form of scratching, nit-picking, twitching, throat clearing behavior that serves to mask our fear of engaging with the ‘real’ world. Please don’t ask me what the ‘real world’ is, because that could send me off again, but I presume you know what I mean. I honestly think we’re in the grips of a kind of insanity that has always been bubbling in our psyches somewhere but now it seems we’ve lost our way big time.
I won’t go on.
For some this might be a confusing headline, given that my home is in Australia and for many Australians a Songline has a vital cultural meaning; one which I still find mind blowing and hard to relate to, despite reading Bruce Chatwin’s book of the same name, so seemingly foreign it is to any practice of my culture. It refers to an Indigenous Australian cultural belief and practice that appears to go back almost as far as the first foot steps on Australian soil, whenever that may have been, of singing one’s way across vast tracts of land, often populated by people with different language, tracking a route by means of the signposts imbedded in the song. Please excuse my extraordinarily simplistic precis of such an important aspect of Indigenous cultural history, I mean no disrespect.
For westerners the history of song as a cultural artifact is in many ways more complicated because it has no contemporary grounding or record in oral history, since our cultural development has been, in many ways, much more random, bastardised and deviated and remains so.
I’ve just been showing at an exhibition in Sydney, as part of the Head-On Photography Festival, with the theme: Images Inspired by Song Lyrics. As part of the Ludlites collective our simple rule is that all images are produced on chemical based media and shot with any camera that has either a plastic lens or no lens at all (eg Pinhole). The show inspired some beautiful images; a great concept and a dream brief until you start to get your head into it. Any song worthy of having an image dedicated to it is going to be the product of its own, often intense, creative process. For all the stories around “we recorded it in twenty minutes, it just fell out...” there will be many more that tell of the weeks or months of gestation of the ideas behind words and music. Maybe there aren’t that many that can match the legend of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah which is reputed to have had as many as 80 verses in one incarnation, but nevertheless the creation of a resonant song is rarely a walk in the park. Neither is the creation of an image that pays homage to that song.
Recently I accidentally tripped over Bob Dylan’s With God on Our Side during a journey down memory lane and since this unplanned reunion I’ve become somewhat obsessed with thoughts inspired by the intensity of Dylan’s lyrics in this song. Of course anyone with even as little as a passing interest in songwriters of that era will agree that Dylan’s output during the first four or five years of his recording career was astonishing and inspiring, transforming the culture of song writing like no one before or since. You’d need to be deaf or stupid to argue against his influence.
Even though this song drones on for seven long minutes in its original form, the lyrics, based simply on the observation of how Christian doctrine, in its many forms, has been used to justify many of the most atrocious crimes against humanity over the last two millennia, are hypnotic and compelling. Like many great songs it becomes almost a chant and compelling by consequence.
I hope this analogy doesn’t seem too much of a stretch but strangely this song connects in my mind with the concept of Songlines. Although it doesn’t lead us across a physical landscape, it does lead us across a historic landscape into the present day of the early sixties and the chanting, repetitive, tantalisingly slow character of the song gives it a resonance way above that of just any old song. It’s an anthem and no wonder, when you hear it as the live recording from 1964 at New York’s Philharmonic Hall, with the sadly over zealous accompaniment of Joan Baez, the audience’s genuinely rapturous applause is so long and loud you’re not sure it will ever stop.
Certainly, Dylan was not the embodiment of the Peace/Protest movement but he was the most audible song writer in that field for a while and, with no disrespect intended to others of that era, he created visions of the atrocious precipice that confronted the world at that time that were so vivid it could be argued his contribution was significant enough and sufficiently confronting that it helped change the course set by the madmen at the helm.
So where has this rant led? I suppose it’s just putting focus on one example of the power and passion of songwriters and how we should acknowledge and respect their influence, while trying to avoid the trap set by iTunes and the cult of Cowell that seems intent on driving the world further into a modern reincarnation of Tin Pan Alley with even less intellect or respect for history, whereby songs act more like candy, a short sugar hit, rather than genuine stimulus for our heads and hearts.
Yup I know I sound like some old fart craving a return to the good old times. Not so, believe me. I’m the first to acknowledge new artists in every area of creativity and celebrate the fact that the digital age has opened many more doors than its closed. I love the fact that in this world where globalisation has superficially scythed local culture it’s real effect has been to strengthen the resolve of many to nurture and cherish the ground that’s under attack. As an optimist I firmly hold that cultural activity is an essential part of the human condition and is part of our immutable DNA. One look at the show at Bondi Pavillion is proof of that. This simple visual celebration of song is a timely reminder of how much we value our troubadours. Last Saturday there were over a hundred people visiting this show, proof not only of how alive contemporary culture is in little old Sydney Town but also, more importantly to my mind, how fascinated we are by the combined crafts of song and image making.
So, almost full circle, let’s just meditate for a moment on the prescience of Mr. Dylan when he penned these verses in With God on Our Side ( just replace Russians with Koreans, Iranians, Afgans or the ‘enemy’ of the day):
......So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war
I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side......
http://headon.com.au/ Head on Festival of Photography closes June 24th