No pictures in this post. And that is because this post is all about not taking photographs! I love philosophy and on my list of books to read is the collection of essays, On Photography, by the curious character of Susan Sontag. In this book Sontag says the growing proliferation of photography (and this is a few decades ago!) promotes a “chronic voyeuristic relation” to the world around. Basically meaning people would rather look and live through images than actually interact with the world.
I feel this is true in part, and this voyeurism has hurt me on occasion. I’m a long-term Canberran and Canberra possesses several beautiful parks, many of which have formed the bedrock of my childhood memories. When I have seen photos of couples or families in MY parks (cos that’s how I feel – of course I dismiss this irrationality in time) it has made me a bit sad on the inside, as though these pretty places exist only as a nice background for a photo…but actually, for me, they form the fabric of my being! They’re in my soul! When I remember them I remember walking with my Nonno (who is no longer walking this world), riding through them with my family, when we were broke and didn’t have a car – during ‘the recession we had to have’ (Paul Keating there for you), and simply walking and walking and thinking and singing with just me and the distant hills, which is heaven for an introvert!
In this way too, I think memories are superior to photographs, because they sink into your soul, they are yours alone and they build you, they enrich you. Maybe they’re not superior, maybe they’re just different…actually, I still think they’re superior!
A camera involves you in a landscape in a different way to just absorbing. You do become an observer, less of a participant, which Sontag writes about as well. As a photographer I see the need to hold these things in tension, Appreciating nature through a photograph is something which is totally valid and wonderful as well, I like to do both.
Today I roamed. I grew up roaming. I love it. I need it. I miss it when I don’t have it and when I don’t have it I die a little on the inside. Nature and me, we’re tight. I’ve gotta have it. When I roamed today I made sure to notice the individual blades of grass, the texture and form of the earth beneath my feet, the colour of the dirt, the way the light struck the world around me as we walked into the evening (which, actually, I would not have noticed if I was not a photographer). I tried to get my children to calm down and stop talking so that they could ‘let the beauty soak into their souls to make their hearts more beautiful.’ (I know, I’m a bit of a hippie, I love it and I recommend it!)
I thought to myself how differently I would approach this if I had brought my camera (there were lots of pretty things to photograph), it would have made it more of a mission and it would, in a way, be using nature, taking from nature, but when you walk without an agenda, when you walk just to be (because when you are roaming with no purpose and away from other’s eyes, all you can be is you, really), when you walk and notice the earth’s natural beauty, complexity and incredible synchronicity (which we cannot replicate on any level, let’s be honest!)…when you do this, you allow nature to give to you and it is the best thing on this earth in my very humble opinion. It’s life giving. It’s living.