There’s so much to tell you all about my travels in Paris. The lights stretching over the inky black Seine, the oh-so fashionable Parisians, the bookstores, the bakeries.
But before I write my photo narratives and list of Studs and Duds, I want to discuss a disturbing new social development: the need to compulsively take photos of art. Or I suppose on a bigger scale, our need to document and share everything.
A few days before I left for Paris, I watched Exit Through the Gift Shop, a multi-layer mockumentary about street art, directed by Banksy, that dude all your hipster friends are so into.
The movie tells the story of Theirry Guetta who films every waking moment of his life, from banal trips to the grocery store to his baby’s first steps. He eventually turns his focus to his cousin “Invader,” a street artist who creates these space invader mosaics:
Invader introduces Thierry to all kinds of street artists. He becomes what Hunter Thompson was to the Hells Angels—an insider, able to access what others cannot. Mid-film (*spoiler alert*) the audience realizes that Thierry isn’t a filmmaker; he’s mentally ill, a hoarder of footage because his mom died when he was a kid and he’s afraid of missing moments. He has great footage, but makes an unusable film.
He reminds me of myself and my own compulsive need to document everything. But it’s not just me. It’s a lot of us. And I don’t even have a smartphone.
Exit Through the Gift Shop stayed fresh in my mind when I went to Paris. I spent hours in the Pompidou, the Louvre, the Dali museum, and then another day with my bros vanGogh and Gougin at Musee d’Orsay.
Saw lots of world-famous art, paintings and sculptures my art teacher told me I would never see.
That was cool.
This was not.
Long lines of people at the Louvre taking photo after photo, not waiting more than a minute to absorb the work. At the Mona Lisa, I had to stand on my toes to glance over the wall of raised iPads and iPhones. The band of zombies clicked away like we were on a safari and an elephant emerged from the brush.
Why are we in such a rush to snap, share, and go?
Is it because we’re all walking around with mini-computers and it’s so convenient and so irresistible? Or like Thierry, are we afraid of missing something?
Do we live by the “pictures or it didn’t happen” rule? Do we think that our taste in art, like everything else must be added to our profiles, those tapestries that express just how unique we’re
Likes: Degas. Before he was cool.
One day, we’ll be lining up to look at the Mona Lisa through Google Glass and pulling up her stats in real time, like she’s a virtual baseball card. It’s terrifying.
How will we be moved by art if there’s a screen between us and it?
Ring In: why are we taking photos of everything? And if you dare, give a shoutout to a favorite piece of art you saw in real life.
October 17, 2013 at 6:22 am
Excellent,I enjoyed reading this piece.
October 17, 2013 at 8:09 am
Wonderfully written! Great Twitter follow too! I’ve really enjoyed all your pieces. Thank you!
October 17, 2013 at 5:26 pm
I’ve taken a camera to galleries but not to shoot the art because, really, what’s the point? You can find better photos online. But galleries themselves can be gorgeous and I like to capture the spaces and light. So, sure, I capture that moment. Why? Can’t say for sure.
As for a fave, seeing Turner’s Slave Ship in Boston was compelling. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Slave_Ship
October 17, 2013 at 5:58 pm
Same! I love taking pictures in museums because the lighting is pretty much perfect. But unless it’s a painting I know I’ll have trouble finding, I don’t take a picture of it.
Slave Ship is something I’ll have to look for next time I’m in Boston. Thanks for your comment!
October 18, 2013 at 7:13 am
I loooove you photo of The Mona Lisa. It’s a perfect representation of people admiring something because they feel they should. No one there is admiring the painting for what it is; they just want to prove to friends that they were in the presence of a celebrity.
October 18, 2013 at 8:36 am
Thanks for your comment. It’s so true. I see this more and more now. People are just recording everything. Pretty freaky!
October 18, 2013 at 7:21 am
When I was at the Louvre I was physically elbowed out of the way by a little old woman who wanted to take another blurry photo of the Mona Lisa, a painting that she undoubtedly didn’t even care about but had to photograph in order to prove that she was there. I have rarely felt as angry and frustrated as I did after five minutes of being in that room!
October 18, 2013 at 8:41 am
It was really frustrating and a crowded day there, so I couldn’t enjoy the best art because I kept photobombing people trying to see it. I would have liked to have gotten closer but this is all I could do. Venus DeMilo was less popular, so I did manage to scoot up to her.
What is wrong with people?
October 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm
I think people take pictures to remember what they did and saw. (Maybe.)
That’s why I take pictures–not in museums, though. But I went to an outdoor chalk art festival recently, and took some pictures of my favorite drawings. It rained the next day, so they’re gone.
But when I look at those pictures, I can remember watching people paint them with chalk dust and wet paintbrushes, and the kids running around with rainbow hands, and the mural stretching across the street.
October 18, 2013 at 12:58 pm
I know that’s why I do it. I like to remember and the older I get, the harder it is to do that. But still, sometimes it’s a badge of honor.
I completely understand the chalk art. I once stumbled across a car art festival and did the same thing because in a few hours, all the cars drove away.
My photography teacher told me to avoid living through the lens by absorbing the moment and then going back to photograph it. Harder than it sounds, especially because a lot of times, the moment or even sometimes art, is fleeting.
October 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm
Some very poignant observations there.
A few years back when I discovered my love of photography I found I was taking photos of everything, to the exclusion of actually enjoying the moment and remembering it years later with my own eyes, rather than through a lens. While I love some of the images I produced, that feeling of disconnection is not pleasant and I now actively force myself to put the camera down and soak up the atmosphere (and then if there’s time take a few more shots before leaving 🙂 ).
Our recent holiday to Cambodia sounds similar in spirit to your Mona Lisa experience! We got to Angkor Wat a little later than intended, meaning we had to view the sunrise through half a dozen rows of other eager tourists.
I don’t regret going by any means, but it makes for a very different experience to what you see in the travel brochures. In the end I conceded defeat and instead focused on the people around me, ending up with one of my favourite shots from the whole holiday…
October 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm
Love the shot and thanks for the comment.
I am training myself to leave it at home. It’s hard though. My camera didn’t work for the whole first day, when we were walking around the Dali Museum. At the end of the day, I was glad it didn’t because it stopped me from walking through Paris behind a camera and enjoying the sunny day we had.
October 20, 2013 at 2:37 pm
I think the worst thing is that they were using iPhones and iPads. If you’re gonna live through your lens, at least use a decent camera! lol I’ll bet there were at least some who were doing it just because everyone else was doing it. Pretty silly, really, since, as has already been pointed out, you can find better pictures online. Better to spend the time enjoying the moment.
October 20, 2013 at 8:39 pm
So true. I know when everyone whips out a camera I do too and then I think, Why am I taking a picture of this? Ridiculous.
October 22, 2013 at 10:54 pm
Great post! Although I didn’t have a camera, your post reminds me of my visit to Paris when I was in high school. Despite having a memorable experience at the Musee Picasso, afterwards, I still felt it necessary to rush over to the Louvre to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa before closing time. It was less about spending time viewing a painting, and more about just saying that I saw it. I look forward to seeing Exit Through the Giftshop.
October 23, 2013 at 8:47 am
I think about how many people never get to see the Mona Lisa. Even though I prefer surrealism and modern, I still had to see it for some reason. Exit Through the Giftshop kind of blew my mind. Hope you like it. Don’t want to hype it up too much.
December 18, 2013 at 12:21 pm
Absolutely! Most of us are afraid of missing out on something great, simply because there are SO many opportunities and possibilities in this modern world of ours. We are completely and utterly overwhelmed by the mass of information around us!..And so we record everything, store it and skip the most important part which is to enjoy the moment then and there..and I guess we share everything through this and that kind of social media, because, sadly, we evaluate our experiences through the appreciation of others, our own perception seems to be insufficient..
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