The Aquarium of the Crumpled and Extinguished

A few days ago, in posting some pictures from my bathroom series, "I'll Be Right Back...", I promised not to gross anyone out.

Though this picture has nothing to do with bathrooms, I cannot make that promise today.

We are still at Monday evening’s Taste of the Nation charity event at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany.

People took their drinks and small tasting plates out onto the Birchwood’s grand veranda, which overlooks lush lawn, classical fountains, flowering shrubs in bloom, and other tokens of country elegance.

When they returned to the ballroom for another round of genteel tasting and sipping, this is what they left behind.

Perhaps I sound scolding. But I’m not pointing any fingers, just a camera.

One of the problems of photography, previously mentioned in this space, is that it aestheticizes whatever it sees. Removes it from the realm of actual experience to a safer, more attainable realm, the realm of the viewer (some have said, the voyeur). That, I think, is what the critic Max Kozloff meant by the phrase "The Privileged Eye," the title of one of his essays and a collection of those essays.

It’s the viewer’s eye that is privileged–given instant and instantly switchable access to a spectrum of impressions, though not actual experiences, that in earlier times would be available only to the most  intrepid traveler or those caught in situations they couldn’t escape.

Electronic media have privileged our ears as well as our eyes. I would not give up my CD-changer any more than I would my TV. But watching a Discovery Channel documentary about, say, climbing Mount Everest, followed a click later by a 60’s video of James Brown dropping to his knees, screaming, "When You Kiss Me….!", well, we are all privileged–and challenged to keep these quotidian privileges in balance.

The literalism the camera imposes on what it sees is not necessarily a bad thing. I may seem to be criticizing people who stuff napkins and cigarette butts into half empty wine glasses and walk away. Yes, I like to think I would have looked high and low for a bus tray before walking away.

But I was frankl;y excited to spot these two glasses on the ledge in the setting sun. Without denying what they might say about us socially or ecologically, I decided to look at them without judging them (or myself for looking). I can’t photograph what simply repulses me. Nor what strikes me as conventionally and one-dimensionally attractive.

Just so you don’t think I am a total misanthrope, here are a couple other pictures from Monday night, after which we will bid a fond farewell to the Birchwood in Whippany.


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