photographs don’t take away your soul (at least, i’m pretty sure)Posted: March 15, 2010
“We’re at an amusement park, we’re not thousands of feet in the air, no, we’re at an amusement park, and this is a roller coaster.”
That managed to take me out of a Bon Iver induced lull. The guy sitting at the window seat repeated that to me, in an accented voice, somewhat jokingly. He was a slightly portly Portuguese man, bespectacled and wearing various shades of tan, both on his skin and his apparel. His was a mantra said only once, as we along with a hundred or so other people bobbed at the mercy of the wind. Some were reading, others sound asleep. Little kids a few rows back from us were yipping with excitement. Our plane lurched forward, it dropped suddenly, it jerked from side to side. He held back the urge to vomit, I could tell.
One of my earliest memories is one of the view of some airport through the double-layered plastic window of some Singapore Airlines craft. The sun was bright and my feet were cold. I’d attribute the brightness to the fact that it’s never not sunny in Southeast Asia (except when it’s never not rainy a few months of the year) and my feet being cold because of my old habit of taking my shoes off on a plane as soon as the flight attendant buzzes in with a “You are now free to move about the cabin.” I don’t do that much any more, because, well, I’ve realized how disgusting it is to walk into an airplane lavatory in only your socks.
If that anecdote provides any insight into my being, it’s this: I’ve gotten kinda used to airplanes. The hum of engines doesn’t bug me as much as it does other people, the crowded accommodations aren’t as bad to me (but as I’ve gotten progressively taller, it’s gotten slightly worse), and the occasional turbulence doesn’t faze me as much as say, my portly Portuguese friend. I guess some people are bugged by hovering in the air in giant pieces of metal, but I’ve at least lulled myself into a sense of security about it. It started with my my mother’s “If you don’t stop crying on this airplane, I will hit you.” mentality and was nurtured by being bounced around the world before the age of ten. There’s nothing better than forced travel and the threat of physical abuse to get you to feel okay about floating in the air in a giant metal container.
If the bastardization of history in my head is true, the early days of photography involved a good deal of paranoia. You stand in front of a box with a piece of glass and a bunch of mirrors, wait a few hours, and out will come a piece of paper showing your face with clarity unmatched by even the greatest realist painters. “How did they do it?” those nineteenth century skeptics asked. Their answer, was of course, that such beauty, such clarity was produced at the cost of your soul. Cameras capture your soul and put it on paper, never to return to your body. Nowadays, photographers take hundreds, if not thousands of pictures a day, knowing full well they could be capturing their subject’s soul along with them. But hell, they’re creating “art.” Whether or not those nineteenth century skeptics are right is subject to not as much debate as I think there should be, but if they are, I’d really hate to be the poor sap to have his soul taken away and forced into a photograph, lost in the shuffle of pictures of clouds, architecture, and nature.
It’s not that photographers are intentionally taking people’s souls (if they are at all) or anything like that. At least, I hope not. Those in my life who I consider “photographers” aren’t also considered “deluded psychopaths”. Soul-taking is just a potential (and perhaps nonexistent) consequence of their actions. All they’re really doing is following some desire that was instilled in them when a camera was placed in their hands, pressed the shutter button, and saw what resulted. “I want to do that again!” They’ll say. It’s the sort of desire that’s placed in a child’s mind the first time they put on a toy stethoscope or play with a toy airplane.
I’ve flown in an actual airplane dozens upon dozens of times, and each of those times the climb is slightly jarring and the moment the wheels touch the ground is always abrupt. In between takeoff and landing is up in the air, both literally and metaphorically. There’s a lot to be freaked out about, but there is absolutely no reason for actually freaking out. The pilot knows that each little adjustment he makes in the flight path when he’s at the helm affects everyone on the plane. He doesn’t want to crash, either. It’s a whole lot of paperwork. This should be part of the common philosophy, to help quell the fears of those afraid of flying. They should be reading a book, having a conversation, something to take their mind off of that paranoia. But what should be part of the common philosophy isn’t, and what people should be doing isn’t being done.
I’d like to think that notion is in the back of all people’s minds, and the animalistic fear overpowers the comparatively weak rationality. Rationality, realizing its defeat (it is, of course, quite rational about it all), helps people cope with those phrases of self-comfort. “It’s all going to be okay. Things are going to be okay.” Repeated constantly either out loud or in the mind. “We’re at an amusement park, and this is a rollercoaster.” Photographers don’t want to take your soul, airplane pilots don’t want to crash, and surgeons don’t want to impair the rest of their patient’s lives. And they will do their absolute best to live up to that.
The plane landed safely in a town that’s cold and rainy not fifteen minutes after my portly Portuguese friend finished his little mantra.