Rich’s response to Sontag’s “In Plato’s Cave”

I did that! I was there!

Many people take photographs of what they have done, where they have been, and what they have seen. These photographs whether viewed on paper or on screen are often used to prove the experiences of their own life to others. Being able to tell a friend that you have been to a U2 concert for instance is very different than being able to show and prove, with photographic evidence, the same friend that you have been to that concert. Photographs carry more weight, more impact, and seem to be more real than just a person’s word and memory. This photographic evidence can give one a feeling of validity and worth especially among peers. The more evidence of life’s experiences and of the people met, the more worthy one feels. Sometimes this can go so far as to become a competition, or a compulsion as Susan Sontag puts it on page 288 of Arts of the Camera; “It would not be wrong to speak of people having a compulsion to photograph: to turn experience itself into a way of seeing”. We also seem to see these photographs being used to prove to oneself, or to remind oneself, that these same experiences have actually happened. Making scrap-book after scrap-book of life’s events (their own and their friends and family’s) sometimes can become a compulsion as well.

When does this compulsion become dangerous? Do people acquire pictures of events and places that they haven’t been to or experienced? If done to illustrate what has happened or to inspire, this behavior seems perfectly rational and sane. A devious reason to collect these images is as a means to fool others into thinking you have had these experiences but becomes worrisome if done to gain the same sense of worth mentioned earlier. To use these images to fool yourself into believing that you have had these experiences when you haven’t seems dangerous; would people do this?

I did that? I was there? …really?

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