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To Control Nature

It took some years for me to switch from film to digital photography.

Where's the darkroom?

It's in the computer, you bimble. No more smelly chemicals.

Okay, now what?

Well, in that image you just captured in my digital camera, the one with unbalanced composition, you can fix it quickly.


Just add clouds to the upper right corner.

Just add clouds?

Yep. It's easy.

I burst out laughing.

There... aren't... clouds... there.

He didn't understand. He's a Wedding Photographer, commercially successful and remarkably skilled.

I had learned to refrain from calling myself a Luddite while living in Australia; that was where the real Luddites had been shipped and I found that some friends were their descendants.

Digital shooting posed questions from then on; what's the morality here?

Photos never have recorded "reality". Photography freezes Time, compresses Three Dimensions into Two and can also void all Color. Simply imposing a frame around a view alters it.

Pushkin said, "Taste is the only morality we've got". A work of Art is either Good or Bad.

Or is the measure of Art the reaction of our senses? What if your senses are more accute than mine?

A Hollywood mentor had impressed on me that a feature film makes money if it inspires emotion, any emotion... you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss twelve bucks goodbye.

Certainly the quality of a work of Art is not the price it fetches.

I had a revealation after some years writing film, wishing to create cinematic literature rather than thrill-ride sensations of Special Effects, until an established producer impressed on me, "All movies are themselves Special Effects".

The power and promise of digital are massive and perhaps in infancy. That's exciting.

Isn't Nature sacred though?

Thank you for asking.

Nature is Sacred. And that is why I do not employ composite imagery when I photograph Nature. I never "just add clouds". I photograph what I see.

With subjects other than Nature, well, digital manipulations beckon.

There are warning signs, though... recall the seduction of neon in the 20th Centruy: "To paint with light". Neon Art does exist and I enjoy some of it. But consider the blight of noctural urban landscapes and the universal assaults of advertising. How to regard new technologies?

Ex-Adman-Turned-Environmentalist Jerry Mander wrote eloquently on this subject in his In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations. Here's his List of Ten Points:

1. Since most of what we are told about new technology comes from its proponents, be deeply skeptical of all claims.

2. Assume all technology 'guilty until proven innocent'.

3. Eshew the idea that technology is neutral or 'value free'. Every technology has inherent and identifiable social, political, and environmental consequences.

4. The fact that technology has a natural flash and appeal is meaningless. Negative attributes are slow to emerge.

5. Never judge a technology by the way it benefits you personally. Seek a holistic view of its impacts. The operative question in not whether it benefits you, but who benefits most? And to what end?

6. Keep in mind that an individual technology is only one piece of a larger web of technologies, 'megatechnology'. The operative question here is how the individual technology fits the larger one.

7. Make distinctions between technologies that primarily serve the individual or small community and those that operate on a scale outside of community control. The latter is the major problem of the day.

8. When it is argued that the benefits of the technological lifestyle are worthwhile despite harmful outcomes, recall that Lewis Mumford referred to these alleged benefits as 'bribery'.

9. Do not accept the homily that 'once the genie is out of the bottle you cannot put it back', or that rejecting a technology is impossible. Such attitudes induce passivity and confirm victimization.

10. In thinking about technology within the present climate of technological worship, emphasize the negative. This brings balance. Negativity is positive.

I am reminded of a sign I saw years ago prior to a local School Ballot Initiative: "Do Something Positive -- Vote No!".

If we hold the Natural World sacred, we must be vigilant.

The existential threat of Climate Change is recognized. Economies based on Extractive Plunder, from fracking fossil fuels to mining irreplaceable aquifers are entering consciousness. But there is more.

What of Wildness for its own sake?

For me, Wildness is sacred, never fully understandable except, perhaps, in discovery of our own place and scale.

And our technology can and does threaten it, with both foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences. Read John McPhee's The Control of Nature. Read anything by Edward Abbey.

When I was married and entered into rants about encroaching technologies my wife would recite her mantra of technological benefits which began: "deodorant, printing press, toilet paper..."

Let's just consider technology guilty until proven innocent.

Now hand me that digital camera.

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