The immediacy of photography and the view from the bottom of the world

Please have a look at this link.  It is a live feed from the Amundsen-Scott International Research Station at the South Pole.  The image is dull and, frankly, kind of boring from a fine art photographic perspective.  Still it gives one, or me at least, a little thrill, raising the hairs on the back of my neck with some sense of interhuman pride.  It’s like we are standing there, and I cannot quite get the image of Roald Amundsen standing at the South Pole with his men on Dec. 14, 1911, just over a century ago out of my mind.  What does it all mean?

Does it mean that photography, in a mad quest for immediacy and “take me there” bravado, has trivialized everything?  I don’t think so.  If we look at the development of photography as a continuum, as an evolution, we start with the nineteenth century.  In the nineteenth century photography enabled us to capture precise and accurate images of places and people in a matter of minutes.  The daguerreotypist would disappear into his magic world of iodine and mercury fumes (OSHA would not have been happy) only to reappear with something truly marvelous.  And we could then retain a certain intimacy with loved one’s across oceans, time, and even death.  That’s pretty remarkable.  Operatively, it brought us closer to one another.

As that century progressed people demanded “be there” images of wars and historic events.  The world shrunk further, we became closer, and it became no longer possible to hide the atrocities of war and other evils, like slavery and genocide, from us.

As the world entered a new century, the twentieth, there was more and more of a demand to “be there”, at the front in wars, at the site of discovery at the poles, and even with our robots and ourselves as we began to leave the bounds of Earth.  The significant fact continued that the world was ever shrinking, we were getter closer.

And now in our own century, the twenty-first, there are cameras everywhere: in our cameras, in the cell phones of hundreds of millions of us, and in robot eyes.  They are truly everywhere and nothing goes unrecorded.  We are in constant communication with everyone else.  Nothing remains hidden for long.  So therein, I believe, lies the point of the South Polar webcam.  It increases, rather than diminishes, the significance of the photograph of Amundsen’s party, because both are symbols of the human quest to shrink and bring the world closer together.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) may have said it best in his poem “Ulysses.”

“I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move.”

This entry was posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings.

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  1. […] its best enabling us to see what was previously unseen.  On an intellectual plane, I am reminded again of Tennyson’s Ulysses and the margins that forever fade against the unstoppable light of human endeavor.  In physics […]