12 October 2014, Florence, Italy
There’s a gaggle of Japanese tourists marching in unison out in front of the Duomo today as a guide waves a plastic flower wand about like a baton so that the group doesn’t get lost in a pothole. A tourist’s neck bends like a swan before breaking to gaze at the more than 4 million bricks holding together Brunelleschi’s teapot. There are no Italians here really; a couple of police officers and some mad cyclists dodging tourists at break-neck speed.
Like the lens of a camera, singular and bionic, we are obsessed with acquiring memories we will only faintly recall even with the thousands of images we make.
Pictures are like maps: we look at them when we need to remember where we are.
In “The Power of Maps”, Denis Wood believes that “maps give us reality, a reality that exceeds our vision, our reach, the span of our days, a reality we achieve no other way.” Picture have the same effect only in many ways more so.
They take out our garbage
Sweep our floors
Fix our food
Make our beds
Pour us drinks
Play music we don’t listen to.
They are beggars
selling stuff we don’t need
They get in our way
We pass them by
who they are
why they are there
Ultimately, a camera, if pointed in the right direction, in the right light, and focused just so, can capture the very nature of what it means to be human – the doorway to the afterworld – the élan vital – the human soul. In this spirit, what is even more remarkable, is that this box of metal and glass, when given instructions can make the invisible, visible. Yet, we remain visually ambivalent to anything other than the objects of desire or the presence of danger.
Frederick Franck observes, “The glaring contrast between seeing and looking-at the world around us is immense; it is fateful. Everything in our society seems to conspire against our inborn human gift of seeing.” Memory is stitched together by a millions of moments. Discrimination is an act of memory and past experience combined. Pictures, our surrogate memory, reveal relationships – subject and photographer, light and camera, what is seen and what we fix in time. Thomas Merton said, “In modern life our senses are so constantly bombarded with stimulation from every side that unless we developed a hind of protective insensibility we would go crazy….”
Invisible people, made visible through the exchange of light and life conceal secrets. What could she be saying? One dog knows, the other does not seem to care.