sartrebeauvoir - Killing the scene, changing the world...

“The camera and the gun share a language – aim, shoot, load, fire.” Lucy Davies (Telegraph July 2010)

Pressing the camera shutter can be akin to performing the wave function collapse. A photograph cannot be taken without some form of action, just as the wave function activates something.

Its just like taking a shot at something. An animal isn’t dead unless one shoots at it with a gun or an arrow. The act of pressing a button (or letting go of a bowstring) and changing the direction of nature is not something many people really think about.

Photographers do this too. They take a picture of something, and bang! The scene has been shot.

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De Beauvoir and Sartre at the funfair

OK. So we get it that the picture has been shot. Does this imply that the scene used for the photograph has been killed?

Note: You have been warned. This is very deep philosophical thinking. Its like the argument whether a brick breaks a window or not. Brain needs extreme engagement with what seems like deep irrationality…………….

Ever heard of the phrase ‘killing time?’ See! The photographer takes a picture and the instant the picture is captured the scene is killed. In other words it cannot be returned to exactly.

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Photography kills

If one were to merely look at a scene, look away and then glance back, has the scene that was first looked at been sent to the grave? Well, um, perhaps yes and perhaps no. You see, looking at a scene with just a pair of eyes doesnt quite reveal so much information as a photograph does. Its not a slice of time but rather a continuity of time. Its difficult to determine a death of a particular scene, and so the brain tends to believe things are quite normal and everything is progressing naturally.

Back to the double barreled question: There are clear analogies with guns. A single click of the camera equates a single shot. A burst of rapid shots equates the fire of a machine gun. The single click gives us one scene, one single slice of time’s death. The rapid burst of shots gives us a series of jerky slices of various deceased scenes. Both gun and camera create quite distinctly different forms of mortality.

It transpires that few photographers then realise how much change is effected by the click of a shutter. Let’s face it, some changes do happen because there is a photographer present. A quiet demo might turn into a riot because cameras are trained on the crowd and they know their actions will be networked across the media. Of course this is a large scale-application of the workings being implied at here.

Like a butterfly causing a hurricane on the other side of the world, clicking a camera also causes change. The camera’s click defines the death of a past scene, the influence on the future world is un-measurable.

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Ultimately as photographers, we should be aware of our very own ‘Seeing and Time.’ (a pun on Heidegger’s work Sein und Zeit.) It’s all about how we fit into the world. It’s how our photographs reveal scenes of things that no longer exist. We know photographs show the past. But ultimately it is only a true existentialist photographer who clearly realises the philosophical implications of using a camera.