The Cameraman is a beautiful animation from Chris Ware that was used as an intro to an episode of the short-lived The American Life television show. It was easily my favorite introduction in the entire two-season show and certainly a memorable story about a group of middle school students who, in a strange way, became disconnected from their environments when they started “filming” the world around them.
The actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a differing opinion:
But most of the time, I’d argue, having a camera and recording our world does just the opposite. It encourages the camera operator to engage, to pay attention and find that sweet shot, to figure out how to tell a good story.
In my opinion, our lives are little more than the stories we tell ourselves and each other. I’m quite certain that the massive increase in people walking around with cameras these days is far more than a passing trend. It’s a sign of progress towards a connected and engaged society. The technology is here. Now we just have to learn how to use it.
Last year I was at the MoMA in New York looking at a photography exhibit. There was a large group of young people who would get really close to the photographs and take a picture of them. I remember overhearing a older woman say to her friend that this concerned her. People never used to do that, she said. By taking a photo of the work for later, you are missing out on seeing the actually work in that moment. Part of going to a museum is to see art in a thoughtfully curated experience. Rushing through the gallery taking photos of each piece for later somehow defiles that constructed experience. It prevents us from being in that moment.
I agree with Gordon-Levitt in that the camera is helping us tell stories, but I can’t help but wonder if we are becoming more concerned with telling a good story instead of being present in each moment. A candid photo is no longer just a candid photo, it’s now a part of a larger story being told on Facebook and the other social networking sites. Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure. But I do think we are missing out on meaningful connections because a camera is in between us. He’s right, the technology is here and we need to learn how to use it. We need to find that place in the middle. That place where we can tell stories without missing out on the ones we are living.