G Dan Mitchell Photography http://www.gdanmitchell.com Daily photographs, news, observations, and ideas about photography Wed, 27 Aug 2014 20:41:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 G Dan Mitchell Photography http://www.gdanmitchell.com/images/Dan-at-Shuksan_VertCrop144Wide.jpghttp://www.gdanmitchell.com Daily photographs, news, observations, and ideas about photography Foregoing Seeing in Order to Capture (Morning Musing 8/27/2014)http://www.gdanmitchell.com/2014/08/27/seeing-versus-capturing-morning-musing-8272014 http://www.gdanmitchell.com/2014/08/27/seeing-versus-capturing-morning-musing-8272014#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 19:15:58 +0000 http://www.gdanmitchell.com/?p=29253 Photographing Van Gogh

Capturing Van Gogh

This “morning musing” may sound just a little grumpy, but there you go.

On a recent trip through Chicago and New York City I had lots opportunities for people watching, an endlessly fascinating activity in big cities. Since many folks we say, especially in the most popular areas, were tourists (like us!) there were many people making photographs of their experience. That is a Good Thing — like most everyone, I treasure old photographs of such family activities, and I try to remember to make a few of them myself.

However, I also saw a frequent occurrence that makes me a bit sad for some of these travelers. Confronted with the opportunity for an experience, a surprising number pass up on that opportunity and instead settle for a record proving that — what? — they saw the thing or that they stood near it.

The gallery holding Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting, one of the most famous and familiar paintings today. (The gallery also contains a lot of other very wonderful work of the same calibre, for sure.) Before spending some time looking at the painting and trying to understand it, feel it, and fix in my mind many of its details, I spent some time watching the other people who were also there to view it. There were, not surprisingly, all sorts of responses — ranging from apparent boredom to rapt engagement with this work.

Among people with cameras of some sort, two ways of responding to the painting puzzled and continue to puzzle me.

The first is the apparent compulsion to make a smartphone image of the thing and then quickly move on. Actually, this goes a bit beyond puzzling me and almost leaves me stunned. On the practical level, if one really wants a photograph of the painting to review later it is trivially easy to find a really good one on the web or in a book, an image that will be far better than a handheld smartphone snap. On the affective level, it seems almost sad to see people with the opportunity to stand within feet of one of the world’s great works of visual art choose to raise a smartphone and press a virtual button rather than experiencing the actual thing.

The second is just plain bizarre. In these cases, less frequent than the first but still not uncommon, someone (mom or dad in many cases) sends other family members up next to the painting and has them pose, smiling awkwardly as the rest of us look away from the painting to watch them, for a snapshot that shows that they did, indeed, stand in the vicinity of a great painting and photograph themselves before moving on…

(To answer the inevitable and entirely appropriate question, Did I photograph the painting? — No.)

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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