Thursday, July 14, 2005

Thoughts on the Phonarazzi

Apparently some of those phone-cam wielding Londoners documenting last week’s bombings were downright rude, a report few professional news photogs will find very surprising. Still, sketchy details from a survivor’s blog have prompted an incisive article by Mark Glaser (it seems to be the week for incisive articles) on the more Orwellian aspects of a plugged-in citizenry. Being a fan of emerging technologies as well as a student of the moving image, I feel compelled to add my own three and a half cents, even if the wife would rather I stop pecking on the laptop and come to bed. In a moment dear, first I have to explain some things to these nice people. I’ll start with the basics:

I’m no paparazzi. Sure, I make my living with a camera and yes - I once chased Nikki Sixx through an underground parking garage, but that doesn’t make me one of those skeevy bottom-feeders who get paid by the pixel to chase low-end proclivities of the super rich. I’d just as soon French-kiss a chainsaw before joining the great unwashed for a round of chase the TomKat, Qua-Lo or whatever celebrity duo is selling units this week. I simply have better things to point a camera at - like ribbon-cuttings, house fires and county commissioner meetings. You know, important things.

Still, I know a little bit about lens detachment. Whether it’s a grainy image at the end of a long black tube or a Technicolor flip-screen one inch from your eye, its easier than you think to keep your emotions beneath the surface. I’ve written about this internal struggle before. From the very first time I framed up a hysterical mourner to the day an unexpected tragedy made me want to leave my fancy-cam by the side of the road, it hasn’t always been easy to stay human and stay employed. But time in the saddle and a long, strong lens has taught me how to hunt images without preying on the innocent. These days I have a harder time feigning interest than respecting the personal space of the dead and dying. Yeah, I still tend to wince when zooming in for the kill. Most of by lens-swinging pals do, too.

But now Joe Pedestrian is joining the hunt, shoving cell-phone lenses in the faces of the dirty and dead and uploading the visceral images to a global audience. In doing so, these erstwhile journalists are discovering the Dark Side of the Photog Force. In London, some victims and bystanders were aghast at the behavior of fellow commuters when they whipped out their picture phones and did what comes natural to the curious and the camera-ready. I guess we should have seen that coming, huh? Tackiness behind the lens first occurred at the very dawn of field-photography, when Civil War photogs didn’t think twice about re-arranging dead soldiers, weapons and props to heighten the drama of their primitive shots. Is it any real wonder jaded victims in the 21st century might survive regular suicide attacks only to fall victims to a vicious citizen press? Is that what the future is...a jacked-in, uploaded world where your image and dignity can instantly be processed into global chat-room fodder, not by just by the rabid camera crews clamoring outside, but by that little old lady two rows over who’s fumbling with the shiny Nokia the kids just bought her?

Stay tuned...


HockeyPat said...

We are a childlike society that enjoys the titillating and obscure. I don’t see this so much as technology getting out of hand as it is further proof that we just don’t really know how to put other people’s feelings above our own. I want what I want, when I want it and you are evil if you get in my way. Thus I can justify any action to get what I want. Excuse me; can I take your picture while you bleed? I really want to, and since you are already suffering….

Mark M. Hancock said...

It's strange you commented on this topic. I just wrote a post about how uncomfortable - yet necessary - it is to document bad situations.

HockeyPat said...

I agree, but let's leave it to the pros. I don't want some Geraldo wanna-be sticking their cell phone in my face to ask me if I'm sad that my whole family just got killed by terrorists.