Photostentialism

If Sartre had a smartphone…

I am an inveterate photographer.  Habits set over the years mean that I invariably think how a scene might be photographed even if I have no camera on me with which to do it. That said, with a smartphone, I always do. As a photographer friend of mine says ‘the best camera is always the one you have with you’.

To have the camera does not mean that the best thing is always to use it though. It sometimes feels as if the need to photo-journal our own lives has got a little out of hand. In a kind of post-modern twist to existentialism I cannot say that I existed in the moment unless I can produce photographic evidence of having done so.

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Yesterday I was privileged to take my place alongside other members of my local community in a moment of quiet and dignified solidarity. Leaders of the local mosque had invited Christian leaders and others to join them as they walked from the mosque to the town hall to lay flowers exactly two weeks after the attacks in Westminster. In so doing, they eschewed any connection between what was done and their faith. Everyone knew that the media would be in attendance – and so they were, moving constantly round the edge of the crowd with cameras and microphones.  What was more noticeable, though – was the number of participants taking pictures throughout the proceedings – at every point from the departure of the walk to the laying of flowers.

Perhaps they simply wanted to remember a key community moment. Perhaps they wanted to prove to friends and family that they had been there. Perhaps they wanted to write about the event the next day, as I am doing? Or perhaps I am reading too much into it.

Either way, two things strike me. The first is that our drive to photo-journal our own lives can sometimes detract from the experience of living them. The second is that Jean-Paul Sartre could have saved himself an awful lot of coffee and angst about his own existence if he’d only had a smartphone…

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