ExperimentalExperience

Condemned To Obscurity Or A Personal Perspective On The iPad

In Musings On Confusions, Photography on April 10, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Well, not strictly. Just a short statement of dissent against all the toy-obsessed hacks insisting that the iPad changes everything. Much like they insisted earlier that the iWhatever would change everything.

The writer Thomas Hettche recentl said something that struck a chord:

Why are people so keen to convince writers to use new media formats? We don’t write novels, poems, plays, essays due to a lack of imagination about what other forms are out there; to the contrary, we do it because we are convinced of being able to communicate in precisely that way something that can only be communicated in that way, and that is something which will silence the racket across all the media channels. Literature is about beauty, which language only reveals when, in rigor, passion, rage or ardor,  you place yourself completely at its mercy as a writer or reader. If you do this, you have nothing to gain from the attention scattered across so many channels.

I think that his words are relevant to any act of individual creativity – literary, visual or other.

There are unexamined assumptions of speed, access, visibility and technical sophistication that distract from the very craft that we pursue. Beneath all this are the engines of profiteering and selling ,busily and desperately attempting to convince us that this next ‘product’ will ‘solve’, ‘improve’, ‘resolve’, ‘transform’, ‘revolutionize’, ‘change the game’ and what not.

It will not.

What I love about Hettche’s statement is the underlying idea of resistance to these market-business driven forces of ‘modernity’ and ‘revolution’. The idea that today, human agency, independence, and in fact, human liberty is in arenas away from the technically modern and towards the seemingly anachronistic world where not tools or toys but ideas, thoughts, and human values remain at the center. That is, choosing not to go ‘digital’ or ‘adopt’ the coolest new technical product, is an act of resistance to corporate forces that spend hundreds of millions on trying to convince us to do otherwise. It is a small attempt to stay focused on individual agency and voice, to avoid being drowned under the endless requirements of ‘upgrades’, and ‘updates’ and ‘versions’ and ‘releases’. It is to hold onto one’s sense of one’s human faculties – ideas, ideals, insights, understandings, thoughts, emotions, sensibilities, and values and retain them as paramount. It is to always use the tool to suit the inspiration, and to never allow the tool to dictate the inspiration.

It reminded me something that David Foster Wallace once said:

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough…Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you….Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.…And the world will not discourage you from [this form of worship], because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation

As I scroll through the many online photography publications, and their tiresome and uninteresting multi-media productions, I feel a dearth of ideas, a lack of individual thought all being suffocated by the desire to appear ‘new’, ‘cool’, ‘of now’, ‘in the know’, ‘up with the technical’, ‘using the newest’. I see stories designed for ‘consumption’, aimed at the sell, easily digested, never controversial, rarely insightful, always predictable, and most each time, repetitive. I have a headache.

Six months from now this iPad will not be good enough. Today Apple calls it ‘the revolution’, but in six months as a new version arrives, and Apple will tell you that the original was not ‘good enough’ but the newest one will be the bee’s knees. Today, this toy is the ‘must have’ and tomorrow the same company will produce another and tell you the many limitations of the original that now can only be overcome with the latest.

We seem to fall for it every time.

The noise is beginning to give me a headache. Photography blog sites are discussing the iPad and its implications for the future of photography. It being posited as the best portfolio presentation tool available. The future. The platform for which all our works will now have to be produced. The magazines have released savvy, glitzy new applications – and each costs money, and locks you into what it wants to sell. The advertisements featured in these iPad-specific versions of the magazines look incredibly spectacular, and are mostly more arresting than the content. Pretty soon, photojournalists will be producing work that once again will look like the advertisements and dance and sing like them too!

I can’t find the individual in these works, but I can see savvy, marketing, placement, promotion, careerism, and the pursuit of that most sought after of trinkets; fame. Maybe that is my underlying fear; the loss of individuality, and individual thought. Of course, I understand that there are independent voices and commercial voices and that it makes no sense to speak about photography as a uniform field of creation. For some, the medium is the message, while for others, the message is the message. I realize that the latter are probably committing suicide.

I also see that many professional photojournalists are actually commercial photographers – their clients being the corporate newspaper publishers, their product the wars, pathologies, issues of concern being asked for by the media institutions. Not much of a difference there – they are just hawking the same products on the pages of the magazines. And no doubt, there are days when I so want it as well – the fame, the name. But each time I step towards it I get a headache. I want to be modern, cool, in the know, and of the moment. My ego strives to be ‘recognized’, appreciated and considered amongst the relevant. I want to be more ‘professional’, better ‘packaged’, more succinct and presentable.

Yet I cringe when I realize the price I must pay and I falter at the doorsteps of magazine editors, stutter during discussions of ‘hot’ and ‘popular’ stories that I think will sell, remain silent about the personally exciting ones that I know will be met with derision, trip over purchasing technical toys that can transport me into the world of the modern digital photographer. People see me as old-fashioned, somehow out of touch and intentionally difficult. But they are wrong. I crave not the trappings of modern possessions, but the possession of modern thoughts and ideas. The latter I can’t reveal on the slide show option of the iPad. I can only do it in a face-to-face conversation, and these are harder to come by. There is no time away from the iPad!

Am I condemned to conventionality, predictability and popularity?

Or am I condemned in my anachronism to obscurity and irrelevance?

  1. [...] “I cringe when I realize the price I must pay and I falter at the doorsteps of magazine editors, stutter during discussions of ‘hot’ and ‘popular’ stories that I think will sell, remain silent about the personally exciting ones that I know will be met with derision, trip over purchasing technical toys that can transport me into the world of the modern digital photographer. People see me as old-fashioned, somehow out of touch and intentionally difficult. But they are wrong. I crave not the trappings of modern possessions, but the possession of modern thoughts and ideas. The latter I can’t reveal on the slide show option of the iPad.” -Asim Rafiqui in “Condemned To Obscurity Or A Personal Perspective On The iPad“ [...]

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