Photography should come with a warning

Deze column sprak ik gisteren uit tijdens de zeventiende editie van De Donkere Kamer, een avond vol fotografie op initiatief van de FotografenFederatie in samenwerking met PhotoQ en Hollandse Hoogte, in Pakhuis De Zwijger in Amsterdam.


Now that we are all here, getting cosy, warming ourselves to the fact that we’re all bound by our mutual and ever-lasting love for photography, I think it’s safe for me to say: photography drives me nuts. Yes, I’ll even say it again: Photography. Drives me. Absolutely. Crazy. And I will tell you why.

Photography has got me thinking that I, a 36-year old woman who for the most part of the year lives in a medium sized town in The Netherlands, can travel to the surface of Mars; swing by a birthday party in Warnsveld of one complete stranger who happens to turn 90; drop in on a small police room in Gori, Georgia, where people are being bullied and tortured; decide whether those National Geographic Pictures of a giant’s skeleton are authentic or if they are a big fat hoax; see how 68 people get brutally massacred in a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya; visit someone’s sick dad over in the US; and inspect a few biological chicken farms somewhere in the Dutch countryside – all in one day.

To “see for myself” what things are like over there, conceitedly thinking I can grasp the meaning of it all. So that I can “say something intelligent about it” to someone else, someone who hasn’t been there or someone who has been there, but has a contradicting story to tell – which is also strange, because: I’ve seen it! Seen it with my own eyes!

Crazy. Photography has got me thinking that if I stare long enough into someone’s face on the wall or in a magazine, if I count all the wrinkles, the nose hairs, the freckles on his cheeks, I will know this person and will see him for who he really is.

Photography has got me believing that I have eyes in the back of my head like some sort of cyborg.

The other day I was driving in the car with my family. My son, in the backseat, did something incredibly smart and funny (he takes after his mother) and I couldn’t see it, because he was right behind me and I was driving.

So. What’s a contemporary person to do? Well, of course: my husband reached swiftly for his iPhone and took a photograph of my son, doing his incredibly smart and funny thing, so that I could see at the same time – okay: a few seconds later – indeed: what an incredibly smart and funny thing it was that he did just there.

And while I was laughing, thoroughly enjoying the little everyday pleasures and endless possibilities of digital technology, I suddenly stopped and thought: What if this is the moment reality just breaks off? What if this is the moment we disappear into a wormhole, some sort of nauseating spiralling cosmic thing where we endlessly have to reconstruct what is happening in the world by watching 350 million pictures a day and have all sorts of opinions about it.

O wait. We’re already there.

Photography is mind-numbingly tedious. And it never stops.

A friend of mine, very enthusiastically, recommended an app that’s called Room for Thought. Every day, at a different hour, this app calls on you, asking – no demanding that you take a picture NOW. So that after a year or so you carry with you this visual diary consisting of photos you took while drinking your morning coffee or doing whatever.

As if we didn’t already photograph every single meal we’ve had for the past ten years, all the cakes we baked, the terrorists we tracked down and smoked out of a hole in the ground, and every, every rose in bloom in the park. Now we also do it because a machine orders us to do so. That’s not room for thought, that’s just plain nuts.

And all this time I haven’t even begun to answer the question that’s been nagging me for a while now. What do I expect from photography?

I have to find the answer to that question. Because, seriously, I’ve probably seen millions of photographs in my life and there’s millions more to come. I have to somehow get ready for that, I have to brace myself in order to survive. And I can only do that by knowing what photography really means to me. So that I really can say something intelligent about it.

Right now I expect the world from photography. I expect it to track down hidden diseases in my body. I expect it to find evidence to start a war, or to end one. I expect it to tell me about the situation in Sochi and Syria; to hit me on the head now and then with a shovel; to shed light on the latest and hippest of artistic developments in New York or the Middle East; to solve crimes; and to show me my own planet from out of space.

Right now I expect too much. And we all know that’s actually nothing.

Room for thought – it got me thinking though. I’d like that. It reminds me of college days, when all you had to do was sit down while the lights went out and before your eyes appeared this slide show, or even better: a single slide, and you could spend the whole afternoon contemplating this one image. Of course that had nothing to do with the real world. Images are gregarious animals, they live in flocks, always connecting to a trail of other images and rarely operating on their own.

Still. There’s a colleague who chooses to concentrate on just one picture per week. Imagine that: just one picture, learning all about it, hovering above it with a magnifying glass, for hours wondering about one little detail.

I might have to take his job.

In the meantime – and disappointingly not having found a satisfying answer to my nagging question yet – I’ll stick with paraphrasing Queen – though I’m not gonna sing. Photography should come with a warning:

Too much of it will kill you. In the end.



Uitgesproken tijdens De Donkere Kamer #17

Pakhuis De Zwijger, Amsterdam

23 september 2013

I ate this. Guilty as charged.

I ate this and then took a photo of it. Guilty as charged.

I watched the sun go down and took a photo of it. I'm doomed.

I watched the sun go down and took a photo of it. I’m doomed.



I hipstamaticed my interior. WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME??

I hipstamaticed my interior. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME??



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