'Man with a Movie Camera'

A transaction

On Monday evening, I went to a local indie show. There were two drummers, two bassists, one saxophonist, one guitarist, and two graphic artists. There were also two models, sitting in the corner smiling at people, and about eighty of–well, of us, the hipster detritus that collects somewhere like Sarasota. Most of stood quietly, sipping beer and wiggling uncommitedly. But a few people, without asking, walked among the musicians, brushing past them when they felt like it and constantly shoving gadgets in their faces.

Why does carrying a camera excuse egregious violations of norms regarding personal and social space?

It doesn’t always. You’re eating breakfast, say. And then through your front door comes a guy with a camera. He wants to take pictures of you eating your breakfast. The lens of his camera is dipping in your grape nuts. He is climbing on top of your kitchen counter to get a better angle. This is a man you are angry at, a voyeur.

But if, that evening, you go to the local indie show and the same guy elbows you out of the way so that he can get a better shot, or stands on a stool in front of you to angle his camera down over the musicians, or generally behaves as though all of the other spectators are merely intruding on his photo shoot, you won’t complain. After all, he’s a photographer.

What’s the difference? It’s you–and not simply that you’re an observer in one circumstance and a participant in the other. It’s how you want to remember that particular moment.

Let’s go back to the divine-right-photographer, with his camera an inch from the saxophonist’s face. He’s taking photographs. Later he’ll do something with these photographs: he’ll put them on facebook, or sell them to you, or they’ll go in his gallery show. What will they do there? Become part of a memory. You’ll be able to look at the photograph (or he’ll be able to look at the photograph) and it will inspire a slight recurrence of tonight’s events, of the drums and the girl with the paintbrush, and the two models in the corner smiling at you.

Photographer: An emissary from the world of memory, saving moments of our lives from the horror of forgetting. We let him walk among the band, let him shoulder us out of the way, holding his camera aloft like an implement of war. Why? Because, at the indie show, we’re willing to value the marginal memory of this moment over the marginal experience. We’re willing to like it a little less, in order to remember it a little better.

At breakfast we’d be offended by this exchange. But we’re not asking for much from breakfast. Of all the breakfasts of our lives we’ll only have time to remember a few. From the indie show, on the other hand, we’re asking for a lot. We’ve been led to believe that this event will be ‘kickass’ or ‘unstoppable’ or some other violent constative. We’ve been led to believe, most of all, that it will be memorable. Something might happen tonight that interests us, some miracle of improvisation or spontaneous harmony.

And perhaps our expectations will be met. Perhaps this show really is that good and we’ll wake up, not just tomorrow morning but some morning a year from now, remembering the night we met that girl, or the way that saxophonist dove from the bar and crowdsurfed, holding a middle F the entire time. If so: all the more reason for there to be a photograph. The photograph will be an anchor, allowing us to recall this night: a kind of graphic organizer for our memory.

Or perhaps our expectations will not be met. Perhaps the guitarist isn’t loud enough and it just sounds muddy, like four rhythm players and a sax, everyone trying to be a star at once and it’s too damn loud to talk and maybe we should just go to taco bell and then watch a movie. Perhaps this night turns out no more memorable than breakfast. If so: we’ve given up on it. Let him take his pictures; we won’t have less fun. And–in ten years, when we’re older, and these pictures are still on facebook–we might forget tonight, forget how little fun it was. We might find these pictures again, fossils from a vanished past. We’ll believe, if that happens, that we did have fun that night–after all, we had fun when we were younger. Didn’t we? There are pictures, we must have.

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