Let’s begin with a confession. At least one lifetime ago, I skydived.

I’m not talking a one-off charitable hop, or a passenger ride in a tandem (I don’t think they’d been invented back then!). Nor a long-term pursuit of sporting excellence, but something a little more than the once-in-a-lifetime occasion the bucket-list might require… nine months or so’s hobby leaps into the blue.

I was surely a braver man than I am now! Particularly if technical considerations could be combined with physical action, I was an enthusiastic trier. Inevitably perhaps, most of these youthful endeavours succumbed in time.

Photography was a recurring undercurrent. An intoxicating intensity of looking. Cameras becoming forgettably familiar in the hand – films, darkrooms, chemicals. There used to be a complete palette of photographic smells. In some ways a very different process from now – yet in some ways the same.

Last week I listened to an excellent radio show [BBC: The Digital Human] where the ubiquity of photography in the age of the internet was under discussion. How much does the way that we use media online change the way we experience real life? Are some of us now prone to thinking so often about sending a photo of this, about what we can say on Facebook or (ah-ha!) in a blog, or in a tweet, that we experience reality itself less intensely?

I’m not sure – although I have my suspicions. But in my analogue adventures in times of yore, a harbinger of change for whatever was my current enthusiasm, was the time at which I began seriously to photograph the people who I saw doing it.

Once you’ve gained the insights of beginning to learn the basics you feel better able to take pictures. And if people in a group know you, and know that you’ve taken time to learn and experience a little of what they care about, they are more tolerant of you as a photographer.

But at the same time taking photographs involved stepping outside. Becoming the observer, placing the camera between me and the experience. A process of separation which had nothing to do with the film in the camera, but something to do with the process of taking pictures, and a lot to do with how my head works.

If photography is more ubiquitous now, does this mean that we are, en mass, are more often stepping aside from the primary experience of reality? Are we more prone to over-indulge in the capture and curation of instants from our time here at the expense of the experience of life itself?

I have a bit of a wonky memory (likely to be the subject of a later post). A lot gets lost, but some things do stay with you. Here are three:

One of the most reassuring assaults I have ever experienced is the sudden braking of an opening parachute, one of the most positive gestures my left and right arms together know to this day (and probably this dates me!) is the action of pulling a ripcord, and one of the strangest transitions I have experienced is from fear to practiced performance on exiting the doorway of an aircraft in flight.

Each memory is intensely visceral. In each case no camera was present.

About stevedsmart

Steve Smart is a poet and visual artist who also has experience in information design. View all posts by stevedsmart

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