Last week we spent most of an afternoon at MoMA. It was midday and midweek on a sunny day, so the crowds were manageable, but there was one inconvenience: people standing in front of the art taking photographs.
I'd seen a certain amount of this in recent years, but never thought that much about it. Some people, I supposed, just didn't want to pay for the postcard in the gift shop--and others might be actual artists who wanted a digital image so they could blow it up on their home computer and scrutinize the brushwork or whatever. But at MoMA there was an epidemic of photo-taking, and as best I could tell, most of the visitors were not taking photos of just a few favorite works, nor were they trying to prolong their pleasurable experience in the museum. No. They were going from painting to painting, taking photo after photo (often two in succession: first of the painting and then of the text on the wall beside it), spending no more than 10 seconds looking at each painting with their unaided eye.
This baffles me. I don't have an especially sophisticated critical vocabulary for talking about the visual arts, but even someone with no training can experience art--and that experience is why I go to museums and exhibitions: to see differently and to feel differently. There's a reason that I always visit a couple of paintings at the INRU art gallery when I'm in town: what affects me can't be reproduced photographically. I have to sit quietly in front of them, and feel whatever it is that they make me feel.
I've never taken photos of museum art, but these days I take a lot fewer photos, period. Facebook has made me conscious of the degree to which my own photo-taking is and always was an act of artificial self-construction. At some point when I was 23 or 24, Lulu and I went out on the town with a couple of friends and took a disposable camera with us. We took shots on the street, in the bar, in another bar, in the taxicab. "Damn!" Lulu said, looking at the photoset later. "We look amazing! This is so much more fabulous than our actual life."
For years after that I took a camera to every social event and on every weekend trip. And there my friends and I are, perpetually: over brunch, over dinner, over drinks, at weddings and houseparties and barbecues, striking antic poses and smiling big, happy, open-mouthed smiles.
But these days, taking photos feels increasingly like a duty: I must preserve this memory! I must get a great shot and then crop it just so! I must post pictures of my trip because friends and family will want to see them! When we arrived at our hotel last week, I had a moment of regret that I hadn't brought my camera, before realizing: dude. I lived in this city for six years. What would I photograph?
My friends, obviously, and me and my fiancé being fabulous, and great weather, and maybe a couple of places I hadn't been before. But, eh. I'd rather have the experience.