Philosophy: Pay Attention

Downtown Minneapolis
An unauthorized photograph

I was wandering through the furthest end of the public skyway system downtown when a voice came on from an unseen speaker questioning me, and later chastising me for taking pictures. This was after being chased away from an enclosed mall for taking pictures of shop fronts. You can’t take pictures here!

I’m very interested in the issues surrounding photography in public places, and this latest instance of photographic prohibition is not a civic/governmental intrusion, but rather a power-play by a small time security company. I have no compelling need to photograph in the skyway system, but it bothers me that this avenue of examining things might be closed off. Unlike the subject of the linked article, I was chased down by three guards and interrogated— for taking pictures nowhere near the new stadium. To his credit, the senior guard sent the other two away and seemed to sense the ridiculousness of the prohibition. He told me precisely where to go to obtain a “permit” to photograph.

I think that one of the most powerful things that photography can do is allow us to examine things that flow past all too quickly as we go about our daily lives. I wasn’t going to say anything about this relatively inconsequential prohibition, but I was reminded of it when watching a series of videos from Aperture featuring Richard Ross:

I feel mildly reassured that the city is looking into the “rules” surrounding photography implemented by Ampco, but it seems more troubling that they are so interested in controlling how a person interacts with space. I was impressed during our latest travels with the power of unsupervised space in tourist attractions when contrasted with the shepherded “tour” of a place. The skyway system is a great way for people to interact with the city, and it would be a shame to actually discourage tourism by turning it into a controlled, almost militaristic space. I think it is important to pay attention to the larger context, as Ross suggests.

Although it is completely tangential to spatial control, Ross’s brief observation about Lartigue, whose naïve images are interesting are in way that his more considered later images are not. This mirrors a bit of conversation I had with Stephen Shore walking between the lecture hall and the gallery in Milwaukee—Shore was surprised at the lack of “transparency” (a subject requiring a much longer post), or to put it another way, the lack of naiveté in Flickr photographs. The question arises: within a mature medium, is it possible for a photograph to still be innocent? I think so, but it’s a subject that requires a lot more thought.

1 thought on “Philosophy: Pay Attention”

  1. Yes–I think that photography is one more example of the restriction of activity in some public spaces, and the way expected behavior plays into control.
    Something I think about when walking through the skyways (especially during the week) is how nobody stops, everybody walks fast, and there are certain conventions to your behavior–you hold the door for others, but only if they’re right behind you, you form a couple lines going in each direction. You push on the door labelled “push” even if it can be opened by pulling on it. There are certainly conventions, and stopping to take a photograph isn’t just the act of photographing, it’s the stopping and interruption of the expected.

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