In this, the latest in a series I’ve been calling In Defense of Hugely Intrusive Government Regulation in Order to Eradicate Behaviours in Others that I Find Annoying, I’m going to explain why I feel that in order to purchase and operate a camera people should be forced to obtain a license.
I’m relatively pro-licensing in many regards anyway, from people who want to have kids to people who want to keep goldfish, before you are allowed to do something that will impact on other living beings I feel you should have to prove you’re not completely stupid. Or an asshole. Considering the outcome of the federal election I feel pretty comfortable throwing voting into the mix there too.
The great thing about modern cameras is that they have become so affordable and easy to use that even a prize moron can take a half decent picture. The terrible thing about modern cameras is that it would seem that all the prize morons have got together and decided to do exactly that.
I should first explain that I am not against photography per se. I love Gursky and LaChapelle, I even have a fledgling friendship with the prodigiously talented newcomer and sometimes Back In A Bit contributer Dan Miller. My partner maintains a photoblog for family and friends, and I have had so many photos taken of me by relatives while eating out in restaurants that I now have a Pavlovian saliva response to the flash of a camera. So I love photography in and of itself, even when I have to stare longingly at the food on my plate while my girflfriend frames it right.
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I have however, never owned a camera. I’ve always felt that moments of visual beauty or happiness should be enjoyed, then allowed to become memory. I feel like while the photo may provide a more accurate record of something, it then takes over and the memory itself becomes what you see in the photo. I like the self adjusting function of the brain that lets you remember an experience as it felt, not just how it looked. Others will disagree, and I can’t deny the warm sense of nostalgia that you can get looking back over old photos. Overall though, I think photos lessen an experience rather than enhance it.
At this stage you might ask what the problem is considering I’ve spent two long paragraphs explaining how much I actually quite like photography. Well the problem dear reader is you. Not you specifically (although statistically, it would probably be at least a few of you), but rather those people who have decided that simply owning a camera is an indication of importance and have therefore formed a two tiered hierarchy, with non camera owners being the untouchables.
Let me give you an example. A few months ago we took a guided group tour through the forest of the Cameroon Highlands in Malaysia. Our tour guide was improbably named Superman. Or at least that’s what he told us to call him because we’d never be able to pronounce his real name (by the way, considering my last name if I’d known that was the rule I would have been signing things with a Mr Dark Knight for the past 20 years). So he was informing us about a particular breed of carnivorous plant we were about to come upon and invited people who wanted to take a photo to come forward. Myself and the two other camera-less pariahs were shoved to the back of the group while people lined up to photograph this wonderful sight. Once the last photo was taken, our guide said “on we go” and on we went, with no time for anyone who just wanted to look at the plant.
This is by no means an isolated event. Tours of ruins in Vietnam, canal cruises in Strasbourg, giant mosques in Morocco. And it’s not just that people push you out of the way to take a photo, they seem to be genuinely annoyed at your presence. People who just want to experience something and enjoy it in the moment are spat at by people clicking a hundred miles an hour just so they can bore the shit out of their friends and relatives when they get home (anyone who has shown me photos of their holidays and is reading this, obviously you are the exception to the rule, your photos were totally interesting and educational).
I have seen on more than one occasion someone make their way through a gallery or a museum, photographing a piece, then photographing the didactic, then moving onto the next one, never actually taking the camera from their eye to engage with what it is they’re photographing. And video cameras make it worse. I saw a man walk through the Louvre without once taking his video camera from his face. People don’t go on holidays anymore, they document them.
People take up entire sidewalks in tourist packed cities to take a random photo of their friends then get pissy when 10,000 people don’t all stop and pay heed to another pointless capturing of nothing. Tour groups monopolise beautiful vistas until their guide takes a photo of them all with every single one of their cameras. And don’t get me started on the kind of person who asks you to take a photo of them, invading your holiday time, then criticises you for not taking it how they wanted.
But worse then all of these are the people who use their camera to record all manner of juvenile and insulting rubbish. People taking gag photos of themselves climbing all over the memorial to the Jewish dead in Berlin. Others who climb on religious statues despite being asked not to, just to get a hilarious photo of them pulling a face. And there is a special place in hell for those people who still think photos of them holding up the Tower of Pisa or grasping the sun in their hands like a ball are fantastic. Perspective is not your bitch.
And just to throw in a bit of elitism (where would a self important inner city wanker rant be without it hey?), I have found that typically the worse a camera is the more likely the person with it is to be a jerk. From National Geo geniuses with their million dollar equipment all the way down to the person I saw squaring up the Mona Lisa on their mobile phone, there is a reason why sexting images or videos of teenage jerkoffs beating up the homeless always looks grainy and terrible. Because anyone who buys a D300 is not getting it to keep a record of his weekend full of happy slapping (I am well aware how dated that reference is, but I’m 29 now and I’ve stopped caring about what anyone under the age of 25 says or does anymore).
So when the situation becomes untenable and you all head back to vote again in a week or two, spare a thought for me and my other luddite bretheren reduced to holding lens caps and camera bags. Vote for whoever seems most likely to enact my selfish and totalitarian agenda.
On second thought, don’t. The only thing worse than a jerk with a camera is a conservative with a majority.