Thursday, November 18, 2010


....Why take a picture when your mind's eye can see so much.

Imagine the scene, it's the near future, and thanks to some extraordinary exploits by the boffins at NASA, man is finally going to visit Planet Mars, and by some quirk of fate you're going! You're brought to NASA headquarters and undergo an intense training routine in preparation for your historic journey, constant briefings about the dangers you may face become part of your daily life, and by the end of astronaut school you are a well drilled space pilot ready for anything the outer limits can throw at you. The night before take off you stay in a sealed environment, lest anything or anyone derail this brave new step for humanity, and after sleeping soundly, with dreams of little green men surprisingly absent, you are awoken by the commander in chief with the news that the president is on the line and would like to speak with you before your journey begins. Having moved Obama to tears with your promise to 'do Planet Earth proud', you undergo the final preparations before being escorted to the space shuttle through throngs of adoring crowds, feeling every bit the hero. Nervous glances are exchanged amongst the dozen or so brave souls who will be accompanying you on your voyage, but all in all the mood is one of hope and anticipation as the enormity of what you are all about to undertake finally hits home. You enter the shuttle, waving goodbye to your loved ones and winking at the tearful young blonde in the front row, before the hatch shuts behind you, the final checks are undergone and you get strapped into your seat. Good luck messages, handshakes and hugs are exchanged between the crew members as you wait for the countdown to begin........TEN........Oh no, fuck no.............NINE......................I can't believe I forgot it...............EIGHT..............What's the point in going if I don't have it...................SEVEN.........................I won't be able to show all the lads on facebook what I got up to................................SIX.........................................I'm gonna have to press the abort take off button........................FIVE.......................MMEEEEEEEEEEE CAMERAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!

As the dust settles and you are brought before the previously rapt President to explain why you singlehandedly wrecked one of the most important events in the history of mankind, you are anything but sheepish and feel totally vindicated despite the look of utter disgust and dismay on Obama's face. As you are cuffed and manacled, before being sent down to spend the rest of your miserable existence in solitary confinement, the baying mob hurl abuse and various projectiles at your bowed head. But when the steady stream of missiles slows for a moment you look up, only to see not faces contorted with rage as you'd expected, but scores upon scores of giddy onlookers frantically shoving and barging their way to the front in the hope of getting a picture of the shamed villain who curtailed the dreams of an entire civilisation. The irony of the situation is not lost on you.

There was a time when showing someone your photos meant rummaging away in the most unkempt cupboard in the house, before finally emerging covered in dust, but proudly displaying a handful of enormous cobweb ridden photo albums containing the entire history of your life up to that point. Relatives would coo, chortle and sometimes cry as they looked back on times of yore, whether it be Christmas, Christenings, Communions or family holidays to the Canaries, each photo held within it a captured moment in time which meant something to everyone who viewed it. Angelic faced children that turned out to be the devil incarnate, smiling lost ones that will forever be lionised, random people that no one could ever quite place and countless others, all contributed to the charm and appeal of the family album which upon being taken out for a 'quick look' would still have a captive audience hours and gallons of tea later. Back then you were lucky if more than a dozen photos of you in a guise resembling anything like yourself currently existed, and should disaster strike and you found yourself in the local newspaper for any reason, chances are that the picture provided would be one of you proudly posing upon receipt of your less than stellar Leaving Cert results. For all but the most vain, this state of affairs suited us just fine, true it'd be nice to have a few pictures of that horrifically drunken New Years Eve where your best mate embarrassed himself to such a degree that photographic evidence would surely result in him leaving the country never to return, some adventures were captured on film, others weren't, but all took residence in our minds and that's what mattered most.

Digital photography has been one of the best inventions of the 21stwinkie or not, then the vicarious effect of seeing an exciting event witnessed through the lens of someone elses camera begins to lessen somewhat. There is of course the exceedingly rare occasions when you're perusing someones photos and you just have to take a breath, doff your non existent cap and proclaim yourself suitably impressed by the panaromic vista, the hilarious carnage of the previous Saturday night or the ever so cute bambino that fills your screen, these are the things that the digital camera was invented for, but as with everything in this day and age you can always have too much of a good thing and there's countless folks out there only too happy to prove this theory.

The whole 'I was there' mentality of the current day internet generation is something that we all possess in some form or another, even the most cynical of people like myself will readily admit to triple checking my pocket to ensure my camera is firmly ensconced within before setting off for something that may or not prove itself to be worthy of being remembered with scores upon scores of all too similar images. But one thing that I have found through this irrepressible desire to ensure that I capture this oh so important moment in time is that it somehow takes away from the feeling of excitement and joy that you would ordinarily associate with such an occasion, it's almost like we've all at once become freelance photographers as we patiently wait for the perfect photo opportunities almost to the detriment of everything else, take a look at your photos from the last big event you were at, whether it be something as mundane as a family Christening or a gig that you'd waited patiently for, chances are your overriding memory of this moment in time will be the panic and fear you felt that the pictures you were taking wouldn't quite cut the mustard and would therefore lessen the impact of the event when viewed by all in sundry on whatever social networking site you chose to display them on. Now compare this to a similar occasion ten years ago, okay so the memories are pretty hazy and the day itself probably went by in a flash, but I'd wager that the few wisps of recollection that still linger in your grey matter are ones of carefree enthusiasm only marred by the mundanity of the church or the sub standard fare offered up by the band, whichever the case may be. By choosing to document our lives to such an extreme level we have somehow stopped living them in the manner in which we ordinarily would, rather than enjoy ourselves and be caught in the moment, the moment has to be caught and we have to be seen to be enjoying ourselves.

I for one thoroughly embrace the age of digital photography and all that comes with it, the fact that so many people choose to embrace it to the point where suffocation is a very real threat is neither here nor there as their actions don't really impinge on my life. But I can't help feeling as I watch this youtube clip of Michael Owen's last minute winner against Manchester city, that although the person filming the action may have a tangible memento which has not only been enjoyed by himself but by thousands of others, he has lost a moment in time which, thanks to his insistence on capturing the moment, is gone forever.

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