Take my photo
I recently read about the first webcam implant into the human eyeball. The webcaster now needs no effort but that it takes to live their own life to produce art. It is art, effortless being a component of great art, because the camera eye is the medium and their life is the pigment.
Cameras are an everyday part of life. It’s not Big Brother either. It’s Big Narcissus. Everywhere I go on the planet there are cameras. In Los Angeles, its no big thing to be videotaping yourself or your friends on your phone for your twitter live blog off your $1000 phone. In Beijing, a host of people are constantly snapping their own lives with 3 megapixel camera phones that are just what they need to zip that yummy slushee photo over to their best mate. In London, England the cell phones now have video phone so your loved one can watch you sleep just by placing the phone in front of your head as you doze off. In Kashmir, India I had an interesting experience with the word “photo.” To the children of Srinigar and New Delhi, “photo” means money because once they hear the click of the camera they hear dollar signs. A beautiful boy of six years old chased my tuk tuk (called Urdu in Indian) begging me to take his photo. By the time I took the lens cap off and powered it up and started snapping the Urdu had sped off and all I could see was him in a pile of dust in the distance. Once I inspected the photos later, I watched his face over the 16 shots I rattled off. They went from 1) happiness to see a Whitey like me 2) the word “photo” being offered to me 3) his even bigger smile once he saw me adjusting his camera and then 4) a relentless pursuit with his arms outstretched farther and farther as we drove away 5) by the 16th frame he was already walking away, disillusioned that he would never make the modeling money that he felt he deserved.
All of this is what I came to expect from photography. The stealing moments the still frame captures do nothing but injustice for a moment and the fact that it can be valued for a quarter by an innocent young child just validates my point.
And then I met Indonesia.
She moseyed up to me slower than the other children, but when Purniya said the word “photo” to me it was almost as if she were offering me something indecent. Happy to take a beautiful young girl’s photo, I snapped off two smart rounds knowing that the light was too strong at that moment. She smiled and walked away. “Wait,” I begged. “I have money.” She didn’t turn around fast nor did she run to me, but she happily accepted the 1000 rupiah (8 cents) and walked away.
This pure moment of giving was a shock to me. Purniya simply liked having her photo taken. As I walked deeper into the hill town of Botohilipapato in the hills of Nias Island in the north of Sumatra, I found more and more children begging to have their photo taken. I would oblige every one (even one boy twice) and I showed everyone their photo on my digital display. This rocked their world. They were already so happy in their daily life. Seriously happy I mean. As I cruise around this country from the back of a motorbike I am always peaking inside people’s homes and indubitably the children are bouncing up and down as if in a happy dance to music that I can’t hear. So when kids see me taking their photo they are so happy. They line up like it’s their college graduation photo. In every home or business there are 8 x 10 photos framed on the walls of major achievements in an Indonesians’ family life. Weddings, School events, and Sports all get their own frame. Today I visited a photo shop and it was the busiest place in town. People walking in with memory chips begging the lady for posters or wallet size or any reproduction of themselves and their fellow beautiful Indonesians. The funny part is they are not the most attractive race. But in the eye of the beholder, the beauty from smiling only exists when the smiler stops smiling. And these peeps smile all the time. There is so much happiness in Indonesia I can’t put my finger on it. The laugh that an Indonesian makes in so amazing. It is a high pitched wheezing with no breath coming in and rapid bullet laughter going out. They laugh and they laugh and once they start they can’t find a way to stop. The remind me of my grandmother and my mother kibitzing over nothing, but with fervor!
In the photos I have taken, the laughter and happiness is sometimes present but if I take a moment to line up a photo I miss that moment and there is a moment of solemnity in the photo taking process. I have joked about it my whole life, but I think the spirit capture that Indians worry about when they take their photo is actually happening here. It is like I am lining them up for the firing squad and they know that the loss of their something (and it is a something that I have no idea how to describe because I have been photographed my whole life) is ready for my gain of everything – and everything is what they give. They would not know any other way.