No discussion of the new guard – the new paradigms created by the intersection of technology, commerce, and youth—would be complete without a nod to the changing nature of photography. I’d like to thank Andrew Reynolds, from Andrew’s View of the Week, and 2 Helpful Guys for spurring some of my thinking about this topic.
My friend asked me to sing at his wedding last summer, and I happily agreed. Over the years I’ve done quite a bit of public singing, and although I don’t do it much anymore, I still consider singing as a service I can offer, a way to fulfill my responsibility to the community. My guess is that I’ve sung at close to fifty weddings, so I didn’t think much could surprise me. You stand up and sing at the beginning, or while folks are supposed to be praying, or during the unity candle. A photographer takes a few photos during the wedding from a discreet distance and may ask for a photo of you and the accompanist afterwards. You stay for the reception if you know the couple. If they’ve paid you then you take off after the wedding. Done and dusted. I had no reason to expect anything unusual from this wedding.
The bride requested Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” You’ve all heard it. If you look it up on YouTube, you’ll notice approximately six million renditions of the Ave, most of which are by the big dogs of opera. These big opera dogs make money with their voices. I make money by sitting in the floor with a bunch of twelve year olds, talking to them about their work. I’ve spent more time than I can count cutting out stars, gluing and stapling things to classroom posters. I have not spent a great deal of time learning the complexities of the “Ave Maria.” It’s the kind of piece that singers work on with their coaches for years before performing in public. But my friend wanted this piece, so I retrieved my years of training and went to work. I vocalized daily and brushed up on my Latin diction, because they requested this language as opposed to Schubert’s German version. I recorded myself, wincing as I listened to each new version and tried to improve on the rough spots. I worked, I tell you, I worked.
After weeks of practice at home and a few minutes with the accompanist the night before, Super Husband and I slicked up and arrived at the church early. The Ave demands an early start, at the very least. As soon as the bridal party attained the altar, the pianist, a nice man who worked at a Catholic school, began lacing Schubert’s opening arpeggios.
As I started to sing, the bride’s whole family got out of their seats to take pictures of me with their phones. I’ve never used the flash on my camera phone, but they knew how to use theirs. Puffs of light tinged my retinas in an irregular pattern. An elderly relative had a real camera with one of those Jimmy Olson type flash bulbs. He rotated around me at tonsil-viewing distance and clicked at least twenty pictures of my face as I venerated the mother of Christ. My face, that wild demon child who will not obey my brain, fought me every step, and the corners of my mouth headed into smile territory, ooching higher with every flash of the mini-bulbs from camera phones.
I can tell you that Schubert did not have the paparazzi in mind when he wrote the “Ave Maria.” This is a lyrical tour de force with a high tessitura and a broad range. “Why Me, Lord,” it ain’t. I don’t know where this reserve of musical calm came from, but I finished the piece without embarrassing myself too badly and sat down with great relief and a feeling of having been slightly—not violated, exactly, but broached. I had the hot head and emptiness of a recent outpouring, and the discomfort of handing over some of my personal territory without my permission. Not saying I completely understand what Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie go through at the airport, but a smidge of empathy now resides, ya know?
Since I have personally experienced the thrill of being photo-buzzed by a group of frenzied spectators, I’ve now begun to take more notice of this picture-in-picture phenomenon. It’s everywhere, and if you don’t believe me, witness the phenomenon of selfies at funerals. If funeral selfies were a sound, they’d make the whooshing noise you hear as all decorum (and some would say decency) flies out the window. It’s like we no longer know when to stay in the moment and when to stop and allow ourselves to experience. Where did the art of remembering go?
As I watch a moment like the one below (I’m not judging by the way, I had my camera out, too) it feels like laying salt on the road of your mind by trying to prophylactic-ally take pictures of something you haven’t experienced because you are afraid you’ll forget about the experience before you’ve had it.
What’s with this new guard practice of logging insta, nano, and micro moments? Why is it so important to catalog every sigh? Do we think that if we empty our present by objectifying it to the nth degree, that it will somehow make the future less bleak?
How did we come to the place where the moment is more important than the message? And how can we get the message back? I’m asking.