I have been reading an autobiography of Paul Auster, a favorite writer of both my wife and I. Actually in clever Auster fashion he has written two ‘autobiographies’. The first-Winter Journal which I have not read is described as a second person look at his physical self. Report From The Interior is the one I am currently reading and it is a recollection of the inner workings of his development from an early age. For fans of his work it is a revealing look at some of his earliest fascinations in life, interspersed with true stories about growing up. All I can say in describing it is that it is unlike any autobiography I have ever read. One of the reasons I like it is because at the end of the written part of the book is an ‘Album’ which tells the same exact story of his life through the eyes of cartoons, vintage photographs, magazine advertisements, newspaper stories, and even motion picture stills. I found myself skipping back and forth to see the visual side of what he was writing about. Surely one reason for this device in the book is because at one stage he laments that as a result of moving a lot he lost a lot of mementos and photo documentation of his youth. Surprising because he mentions that in the postwar U.S. every family was gripped by ‘shutterbug’ fever.
It made me think about the times we are in now, when everyone is seemingly a photographer. From masters of the selfie to Instagram accounts with thousands of followers, everyone it seems is representing their life in a ‘visual’ way. The difference from what Auster described is that though cameras may have been readily available, the means of sharing them to people was not. I am old enough to remember the dreaded ‘slide shows’ your neighbor might invite you over for to see of their trip to the Grand Canyon. Other than that, photography was either commercial-family portraits, newspapers, magazines, etc or artistic. The lines did not really intersect with one another but they sure have now. This blog would not exist if they did not intersect after all. The question I wonder about is-does having so much visual representation harm the more thought driven way we used to think? Instead of describing how awesome the pizza was at a restaurant to a friend, we show them a photo we snapped of it on our phone. Instead of describing a cool exhibit we saw at a museum, going over the high points we tend to rely on the visual.
By no means am I above this, but sometimes I like to take a step back. To ‘think’ about photography rather than doing it. When I saw these figures standing on a hill on Roosevelt Island with the Manhattan skyline behind the figure to the right above, I thought it would be interesting to take a photo of people engaged in the act of photography. Photographer and subject matter together. I could describe to you in detail what was behind that figure on the right. What buildings would be in view, what color the sky was, that sort of thing. And sometimes I think that is actually more interesting.
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle
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