The photographic fetishism


AUGUST, 2023

The sun had just set, as if the earth had devoured an immense perfect circle, a ball of pure red fire, solid, without a single deformation on its circumference. I sat watching the sunset, absorbed by the endless Kalahari desert. In a few minutes, instead of darkening, the sky, the clouds, the whole universe, the entire landscape, exploded in an expansive struggle of flashes and colors. All shades flowed into my gaze: orange, scarlet, red, vermilion, amber, ochre, purple, fuchsia and even blue. As if the angry sun was fighting against the sunset behind the horizon, a line getting deeper and deeper, wider and wider. The sand was also a flash, an explosion of colors that merged with the firmament. I can't remember another sunset like it, so vast. Suddenly, in the midst of the absolute, portentous silence that only exists in nature, the monotonous sounds of camera shutters broke my concentration. Disturbed, I turned around and saw the tourists, of whom there weren't many, coming and going to capture the twilight with their cameras. After taking the picture, none of them remained in awe for more than a minute.

Despite my discomfort at the interruption, I inexplicably felt some remorse at not having captured the moment to send as a photograph to friends and family, so from then on I decided to always carry my camera, an old Canon 35mm. A very bad decision. From then on, I also felt absolutely naked. When I had to stare into the distance at a picture of a swift, agile cheetah or a small emerald cuckoo, I began to long for the gigantic telephoto lenses that all the tourists had. Most of them were carrying super-telephoto lenses between 240 and 500 mm, many with focal lengths of over 500 mm. The problem is not, of course, that technical facilities have made us confuse our role as travelers with that of brilliant photographers, that we all want to and can be artists or National Geographic journalists, but that Africa, not to say the whole world, has become not a continent to be experienced, but a stage to be photographed. The moment, the experience, doesn't matter. What matters is showing the image.

The photographic fetishism is one of the great social phenomena of the 20th century. It is a massive displacement of the libido we invest in the object towards its representation. But the complexities it reveals, as we can see in the psychological impact of smartphones with cameras and in the phenomenology of the selfie, are not problems of individual choice, they are not the result of freedom of action and representation. They are social mandates. In Africa, they seem to have a commanding character. The people with the most extraordinary camera or the most penetrating telephoto lens have charisma, they carry a kind of natural leadership. They have special rights. Mortals without a camera have a diminished humanity. Rowers, motorcyclists, drivers, boatmen, guides obey and give priority to people imbued with photographic mana. All it takes is for us to have the misfortune of meeting a Pakistani or a Japanese with an ultra-photographic astronomical observatory on a barge or public transport, and they will set the pace for the journey. Even if we want to continue the journey to appreciate the landscape in its entirety, to feel the wind, the cadence and the rhythm of the road in different directions, it is very likely that we will be forced to stay in the same place for 40 minutes, waiting for the 1,266 photographs of the small bird that cannot be seen with the naked eye and whose name nobody knows, except when pronounced in unintelligible English with a Bantu tone. In harsh and poor Africa, the value of a camera can be worth a fortune to support an entire family. In touristy Africa, in nature reserves and parks, it's hard to go a day without a camera, even if it's a simple Canon 35mm.

Article courtesy of Atril.Press, Edition 61, August 20, 2022

Axel Capriles Méndez (Caracas, Venezuela), essayist, writer, psychologist, economist and businessman, is above all a critic of culture.
Since the beginning of his career, he has combined rigorous intellectual activity with a fruitful business life.
He is the author of "El Complejo del Dinero", "La picardía del venezolano o el triunfo del Tío Conejo", "Las fantasías de Juan Bimba" and "Erotismo, vanidad, codicia y poder. Las pasiones en la vida contemporánea", he is also director of Gran Roque Capital, S.L. and Orinoquia Real Estate (SOCIMI), companies dedicated to real estate development and the seasonal rental industry in America and Europe.

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