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  • Writer's picturePaloma Gaskin

Visual Records of Our Presence

Why do we photograph ourselves at monuments and major landmarks around the world? An unimaginable number of images exist of these sites, yet we seem to need to put our personal stamp on that place. It can’t only be about saying “I was here,” can it? There has to be something more to this, surely. I don’t know why it suddenly came up in my thoughts. Of course it’s still possible to add a unique touch to your photography, dependent on any number of things like lighting, angle etc. But I’m not a trained photographer, and that’s not what this blog is about. I’m thinking of a deeper meaning, that we may not be aware of…

I suspect we’re touching immortality by imprinting ourselves onto a popular landsite. Maybe we are unconsciously sealing our memory there, marking our existence as it were, with a place that won’t be forgotten in time. Multiple others have historically visited before us, or originally inhabited the land, and many more will visit in the future. Our lives may be fleeting in the grand scheme of the planet we call home, but the pyramids or Taj Mahal or Windsor Castle or the Cristo de Redentor, have withstood the ravages of time and will likely remain when we are dust. Are buildings and places sentient? I feel them to be so, in this way.

Sacred or religious places may hold even more light and peace, with the accrued prayer of multitudes across centuries and millenia, but ordinary places of historical significance are not so obvious to many. The repeated action of love and hope somewhere, adds a distinct energy that we can sense. We forget or deny this sort of reverence or awe and unconsciously snap away. Monuments and statues are imbued with a certain quality of what or who they represent, don’t you think? It’s precisely why figures in power would have their likeness immortalised in stone. A signature trace of the power they once had, if you will. This also points to why statues and monuments are purposely destroyed during war and conflict.

The land itself, like Earth, can tell our collective stories in the archaeological study of civilisations. Photographic evidence and documentary-style film, even temporary stories on instagram, are now the prominent way of capturing our presence for all to see. Nothing is actually ever deleted online, or at least not immediately, regardless of it no longer being viewable. Only time will tell if this technology will truly outlast us, in the same way as what we actually ‘built with our hands,’ in the form of landmarks. Nostalgia is typically linked with the tangible, like an old analogue photo or a second hand book. Can our personal story really be told in filtered, curated photos and videos posted online? It’s all we have of the past.

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