A photo as a token of absence

On banning photographers

A photo as a token of absence

17-12-2013 | 16.53

Several decades ago, French newspaper Le Monde wouldn’t place photographs. Photographs were seen as a mere illustration to the essence of the message. This year however, another French newspaper, Libération, decided to release an issue without photos as an homage to photographers. The empty frames on the pages showed how important photographs really are.

So I guess we can safely say that, over the years, photography has become extremely invaluable and an essential driver towards a pervasive visual culture. As Libération put it: “ takes the pulse of our world”.

Nevertheless, I believe that the bold step of banning photography from the Trouw dance floor is a change for the better.

Besides having a deep love for photography, I also love music. Not only as an introverted endeavour - geeking out to rare releases with my headphones on - but also as an inclusive, transcendent experience. Music has that rare quality of enabling to lose yourself in its momentousness. Especially when all the people around you are being enveloped by its energy and a wave of altered psychological states sweeps over the dance floor. It is my humble opinion that party photography tempers that music-induced state of mind. Let me explain why.

Photography is a subjective medium. It’s a representation of the world through a lens, resulting in an image in line with the photographer’s (creative) vision.
"The Photograph [becomes] a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest shared hallucination”, so says Barthes in Camera Lucida.

That’s why we like to have a little control of what this shared hallucination will look like when it’s posted in a Facebook album, on Instagram or Twitter. I don’t know about you, but I like to look good in pictures. Yes, I’m that shallow. It’s just that I’d rather not end up on one of those “Worst Party Pics Ever”-websites. Thus, having a camera directed at me arouses a state of hyper self-awareness. A preoccupation with the image I’d like to present to the world hinders the blissful music-induced state of dissociated consciousness.

Besides banning professional (party) photographers, Trouw also discourages smart-phone use. In On Photography Susan Sontag wrote: “A photograph is like a pseudo-presence and a token of absence." Any image you take during events is a mere simulacrum of the real experience. It accomodates a form of instant nostalgia towards a moment in which you were not fully present.

Hence, the Instagram you’re taking on the dance floor doesn’t add to your experience. Even worse, it’s taking away from it. Researchers from Fairfield University have found that people who rely on their camera to capture events are not fully immersed and hence less likely to remember the event. They call it the “photo-taking impairment effect”. 

So, despite my deep fondness of photography, I’m looking forward to Trouw’s new policy and am looking forward to total immersion in music. Let these great forms of expression build on one another, not devalorize the appreciation of either.

Text: Martijn Savenije.

Photo credits: René Passet & Ronny Theeuwes