Wim Wenders may be known primarily as an amazing filmmaker, but he’s also a great photographer. Recently I listened to an interview in which he discusses the art. For Wenders, photography is a very present medium, that is, it’s about capturing the moment—the “now.” He laments its practice today, with the use of digital cameras and Photoshop, because many—if not most—photographers are already thinking about postproduction (what will be changed later in Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.) as they take their shots. Photographers do not have to be present today in the same way as they did in the past, when these options did not exist. Because of this, time itself is erased; it disappears. The privilege and specificity of photography lie in its obligation to be here now.
I don’t agree with all Wenders has to say about contemporary photography, but the interview did get me thinking about a recent experience I had with my iPhone. A friend of mine held a party and built a huge bonfire in her backyard. As darkness fell, I ran inside to get my phone. Not to be in the moment. Not to capture the moment. But to create texture photographs for future iPhone creations. As I shot the flames, I thought about how they would pair with other photographs.
A couple of children played with branches and piled them on the fire. I took photos of them as well. I thought about creating a specific type of image, shooting with the use of certain apps and Flickr iPhoneography groups in mind. I wasn’t present, at least not in the way Wenders seems to suggest.
By “now” Wenders may not mean capturing a strict—almost documentary—image. I do, however, think that he means to be here for what is happening, even if doing “artistic” photography. Photographers should be alive to the possibilities that exist at this particular time. They should engage robustly with what the outside world reveals.
At the bonfire, I was absent in many ways—lost in my own world of future creations. I would say that I’m present less than half the time when using my phone. It may be that iPhoneography and mobile photography in general have evolved to be something more, or other, than photography, given its creative use of filters and apps as an accepted form of practice. (Some argue it’s never been photography at all.) If so, would that change its obligation to be in the moment in the same way, making it exempt from Wender’s criticism?
Despite having one foot in iPhone postproduction when I take pictures, I also feel immersed in the flow of time in a way I don’t in other activities, including other art forms. I feel as if I’m in a “now.” I even feel a type of unity—with something. The question is: what “now” is this and what is that something?
Maybe we have an obligation to more than one manifestation of “now.”
The two photos in this post are from that bonfire evening. I plan to post more in the future. (Still need to do that postproduction!)