The New York Times LENS blog has a nice essay today about the role the digital camera plays in our experiences of culture and place. Seth Mydans (son of FSA and LIFE magazine photographer Carl Mydans) describes an upcoming documentary called "Camera, Camera" which argues that "the world as a whole is being altered by the colonization of fragile cultures by camera-carrying travelers." Mydans offers the above photo as an example of the odd impulse to capture instead of experience. One of the commenters suggested this 2007 New Yorker cover as a nice example of the same idea.
If you follow the link to the Mydans essay, be sure to watch the film clip of a morning procession of Buddhist monks in Laos being photographed by tourists. It's creepy but yet totally familiar. On the one hand, Mydans and the filmmakers are simply pointing to the old problem Susan Sontag observed years ago: "The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own." But I do think there is something different lurking here, too. In the kinds of images Mydans points us to, production and reception collapse into one another.
What does a viewer look like anymore? Increasingly, it's someone with head bowed, checking out the tiny screen on the back of a camera.
image credit: Lydie France/EPA via The Guardian