x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Hold the phone-photography

You can't do anything these days without someone whipping their phone out; producing an image filed away into a strange catalogue of daily detritus.

A road sign whizzing past, a lineup of out-of-focus smiling blobs, a plate topped with food looking eerie and unappetising. As a friend of mine flipped through the photographs he'd recently taken on his smartphone, I couldn't help but wonder why this snap-happy habit has become so prevalent.

You can't do anything or go anywhere these days without someone whipping their phone out and producing an image that will only get filed away into a strange, badly shot catalogue of daily detritus.

I visited an ancient monument recently, in a place that few ever get to see with their own eyes. As I stood, feeling privileged to stare back through more than two millennia of history, I looked around and realised that the majority of my fellow travellers were inspecting its grandeur through the filter of a three-million-megapixel lens. After snaps were taken, most of the photographers were drawn into checking their emails and oblivious BBM-ing.

Even more worrying is the increasing trend of recording video on phones. I've watched people go red and shaky from holding up their phones for so long to record an obviously dull conference; a video they will never watch back and almost certainly not put on a blog.

I can't help feel there is some sanctity being lost in this compulsion. Go to any gig these days and the darkened magic of the fan-pit is almost certainly going to be interrupted by a thousand flashing phones. Where once people held up lighters, they now hold aloft screens ready to truck it all through to Facebook the morning after.

Admittedly, I'm just as bad. There's some rationale that says taking a photograph fulfils something. You've not really seen it unless you've snapped it.

As information bombards us, this voracious documentation of the minutiae of daily life seems like a way to contribute to or concentrate for a second on a reality that fires past at a dizzying rate.

My concern is part of that much-bemoaned loss of the value of things in digital times; a feeling that all these shots just disappear in a great flippant fog. Rather than treasuring images, they become something to casually flick through on a bus: You don't put jpegs in a box in your wardrobe.

We've already long since accepted that books of great correspondence - letters mailed from one artist to another, for instance - are a thing of the past, as the deletable, quickfire email naturally does away with the whole ritual.

I don't think that great moments should go the same way. Really looking, remembering and telling someone about them properly, is much better than chucking a poorly lit version online.

But such moments can only happen when we're really alone or in them, something that - like it or not - the chattering phone just doesn't allow for.



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