Tiny Proofs

Tiny Proofs of the Existence of the Eiffel Tower
Measuring time in beats between skeuomorphic shutter clicks


“I used to wonder where the urge to photograph came from. I mean, there are literally billions of photographs of the eiffel tower spread all over the world by tourists with cameras. I imagine people sleep better at night having these tiny proofs of the existence of the eiffel tower in boxes underneath their beds,” David Wojnarowicz wrote in his memoir Close to the Knives.

That was twenty years ago. Photography involved scarce resources then. A roll of film gave you 24 chances and it cost something to develop. A single shot taken a billion times — printed on paper, tucked in mylar sleeves, left to collect dust in a box under the bed — could seem like a waste. I wonder what Wojnarowicz would make of those boxes turned to cloud junk drawers: Instagram, Flickr, and Vine. There’s no limit to those tiny proofs now.

Photographs that prove the existence of the Eiffel Tower more importantly prove the photographer’s existence — your existence (whom among us has never taken a photograph?) You were there, this was your vantage point, you closed your eyes and heard the click of the skeuomorphic shutter sound. The moment was yours alone. The souvenir of it may look like the images of a billion others, but they didn’t eat your lunch, they didn’t wear your clothes, they don’t have your dreams, your work, your lovelife, your sorrow. Images are always linked with contextual metadata of the mind. That is why, even when it costs something, people want their own Eiffel Towers to stick in boxes.

Document everything and your world is a perpetual crime scene. The past becomes a fixed point of reference rather than a vapor trail behind you. I can *prove* to you the shutters of the house around the corner used to be maroon and pink. I can *prove* to you we ate lasagna for dinner last week.I can *prove* to you I once stood in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Now snapshots elide the law of diminishing marginal returns. One image will not be stacked in a shoebox with seven hundred other pictures. It will not be found inside an envelop the drugstore clerk handed you with the negatives tucked in the front like you’d ever print it again. The image is a piece of your shadow, not a strip of paper that you can count. We are talking about ether, broken down by batch uploads or sorted with tags, but absent physical dimensions the images are pieces of a whole. One collection for one life. Some parents even post their sonograms and tag them on Facebook. A kid today could construct a flipbook autobiography from the womb until death.

We don’t know the psychic metadata of someone else’s images. That is always invisible. We never know a photographer’s intent. It has always been the case. Something else Wojnarowicz wrote: “You can always get something on film and if it is blurry and out of focus or ‘badly’ lit you only have to claim INTENT and the art world will consider it.” A picture is a vessel for a moment. If the past fails to fill it with value, a second glance in the present might post-date it with a better reason for existing.

A picture bookmarks a moment, from someone and somewhere. It might look like nothing, it might look like billions that came before it, but there was a reason it happened. The reason may be as simple as why a person standing in the sun casts a shadow.


Medium, September 2, 2013