The world without pictures

Henri Cartier-Bresson photography exhibition in Russia, Saint-Petersburg, in June 2019 at Art gallery Art of Foto.

Two days ago, on 12th July, we celebrated photographer's day here in Russia and it made me think of the importance of our profession nowadays and the real value behind each taken photo once and all over again. Truly, the world has changed so fast during just some last 15 years thanks to the Internet and it made a lot of new things and communication types possible. However, this also decreased our attention span to a very short one, where we are so lazy to read anything for longer than a few seconds period of time during the day (unless you are still reading books, like I do and love it) - and with images we just tend to flip them through before moving onto our next task, as well as contributed to, unfortunately, growing devaluation of photography. And if I was pretty sure that photographers kept taking their own work very seriously all time before, I am not so convinced about it anymore. We rely a lot on social media channels currently and it is sad to see this trend taking all over the world, and, apart from very small and closed "real photographers" communities - mostly photo labs and old-school masters, who still use film and cannot imagine their art to truly bloom and stay "alive" without being printed, we no longer think of storing our memories (or even making them, really) to later put them into our family photo albums, so we can watch them later together with our loved ones - we take a million of selfies instead, shoot those pointless everyday snaps and are urged to buy even larger memory cards and hard drives, because the amount of our imagery is too huge and we easily get lost in them, but then we shoot more, don't think much and never look back.

Last week Facebook, Instagram and even Whatsapp had a glitch - images didn't load for maybe one or a half day and our feeds were mostly blank with only some texts and shared link names visible. I was chatting with my friend and we tried to send each other some information (her screenshots and couple of my photos) and I felt frustrated it didn't work. My other friends, who were aware of this problem, joked about a sudden need to master our writing skills, because we could only communicate through the text from now on. Even though text can be very powerful, on that regular "Facebook feed without photos"-day even the most unpretentious online users could see the difference between rich visual content and none at all and/or maybe felt how big role photography has played in our regular life and conversations, where sharing an image could literally speak a thousand words. It reminded me of several past years saddening newspaper cases, where some of them - with an excuse of budget issues or something else of same type - ended up firing their whole photographers staff, leaving only a couple of journalists and freelancers on board to cope just with iPhones to take pictures (e.g. famous Chicago Sun-Times case), forgetting that it's not enough to maintain the same visual content quality (and keep, as well as respect their loyal readers with it). Or another case, where it was a newspaper itself, that published their issue with no images whatsoever - as a statement to support photojournalism and its importance during the times, when professional photographers are being laid off worldwide in order to save money, which is too risky compromise of the final result. One example of this was French newspaper Liberation, also in 2013, whose journalist called its imageless issue later "uncomfortable and visual shock". Looking at these pages, do you still think that quality, great taste and eye for perfect frame and composition, as well as impact and importance of illustrative and professional story-telling doesn't matter? Do we really want to live in an imageless world? And, after all these years, how could we?

But just for a moment, please, imagine this - you can't really share any photos, not even speaking of taking them, you cannot illustrate any articles, web pages, books or the news, so there is only a physical evidence, you can't preserve your own photo memories, all you can do is use text and illustration only - this could be very hard nowadays, when we're so used to pictures, videos and sound, and we use them all daily to speed up our work and communication. If there were no images to look at, we would rely on art and our imagination only, but it's impossible, because we all want to see and observe, but also to share and capture it, and it seems to be very important to us and even makes us feel alive to some extent. We are also a society that cannot fight our technical progress, but we shall never forget what is the meaning behind all of this - the picture, originally, is about shadows and light, and based on our relation to photography this understanding grows and varies, but we all should be equally grateful for being able to shoot things on our phones or professional cameras and capture people that are special to us, to go to unknown places and leave them with photo memories and enjoy their beauty on our walls for years to come. 

"So my only conclusion is: thank God we have pictures in our lives. As they colour it, teach and inspire us, and we get a little closer to the magic of pausing a moment and having it with us forever or just for a shorter while."

..Last month in June I met with my photo colleague friend here in Saint-Petersburg and we went to see a photo exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson at the local gallery Art of Foto. There were only 22 original photographs signed by him carefully placed on the walls of maybe 20 square meters wide space, so it was a very small show, however it was pretty popular one and being visited by thousands of people during just the very first days. I saw a lot of tourists there and was really happy myself that I could get to see it right after the opening, and I might actually go there again some day. And even if you're enormously far from his genre, don't understand his photography at all, I still think it's an amazing and powerful moment, when we can just go to see those beautiful and rare signed original prints - some very famous and published in I don't even know how many books related to teaching and understanding of photography and presented as already proven example of this master's work, in a tiny room full of young people with their smartphones, yet who still come to get touched by his artistic vision and who can appreciate real photography in 2019, when you would least expect it. And being able to stand in front of the faces he captured, while trying to read his message, to look a bit closer to see the details of prints and even learning from them, because only getting inspired by them was very obvious, makes me trust in power of photography even more, so there is hope. We do need those galleries and photography prints collectors, we need our industry and we need people to see our works - this is how we can preserve it and support its natural and healthy growth. And though maybe half of this exhibition visitors came because of his famous name and other half for the love of photography as such (yet it's important to note that both came there very consciously), but it doesn't really matter, what was behind their drive and what motivated them to stop by and enjoy it. What's more important is that there are still those, who see the value of it, so photography isn't dead. It just needs more care and people with a good taste to promote it to the cultural upbringing seeking masses instead of making it a mass product of no soul, it needs a stronger reminder by people in photography world that it's about pausing precious moments that will last time vs. a snapshot, which after few Instagram posts will fade away. But one thing is clear - we are visuals and we need photos in our lives and are not ready to give them up, whether it's just for personal joy or something more advanced, and we need to embrace this and rather unite, whenever we feel like arguing about our global future. Simply because all of us do understand that the world (- past and present -) without pictures would be such a miserable and dull world. Yours 💜, Veronica Lounge / Photographer & Editor of Lounge & Lifestyle

Veronica Lounge

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