Obsequious can be such a nice word – within context of course.
The other evening some friends and I were chatting before taking our dinner. Photographers being photographers, much of conversation was centred around photography and other photographers. For some reason Cartier-Bresson’s name came up and with that, what seem to be the usual jokes about the “decisive moment” and “are you decisive?” and the rest of it.
Decisive or not, it seems that Cartier-Bresson was quite obsequious in this regard, as in his “decisive moment” and sticking faithfully to that expression.
OK, what’s all this got to do with this image? We mentioned the “decisive moment” did we not? Well, decisive or not, this image is a moment of some description. To me it makes no difference whether it’s decisive or not. More a matter of just getting on with it. I’m not Cartier-Bresson, not even a fan. And, Cartier-Bresson is not me. Different times, different places, different occasions, different results. Just the way it is.
Back to the image. In isolation, this particular image may be one thing. In a sequence, it may be become something else. We’ll get to the sequence part in another post.
So, what’s this image about? In fact, what is this whole “From Hong Kong with Love” thing about?
To put things into context. Over the past few months I’ve been working on a “Then and Now” documentary project, working with a series of images taken some 50 or so years ago. Where? Here in Hong Kong.
From near where this image was taken, there used to be a photographer who had set up shop here to ply his trade. At the time, he would approach tourist such as these to ask if he could to take their pictures – either as individuals, couples or groups. This was in the days of film and prints. At that time, the tourist would either have to return to this spot to collect their pictures or, if the the pictures had been paid for, they were posted to them.
In more recent times – as in the digital age – a whole bunch of photographers with their digital cameras, printers, batteries and generators took over this pitch and tried to do much the same thing – this time supplying prints after just a short wait. Over the last year or so all these purveyors of the craft have since disappeared. Seems now that they’ve been replaced by the cell phone and the selfie. I mean, who needs to get in the way of a good thing? Who knows who looks better and who knows the better pose and smile or nod or wink than the person taking their own picture or pictures. I mean, here it all is – great backdrop, great skies and, with all this, great pictures – or not? I mean, how can one go wrong with this combination and great smile? With this, gone are the awkward poses, geeky stick-on smiles and that great reluctance, cold shoulder thing that was usually reserved and trotted out for those who were willing to take our pictures. Now we can “flesh it out” with something that may be a little more genuine, a little more real or, so we would have it.
So, with this and when the images are posted to your favorite social media platform, you can now genuinely say, “From Hong Kong with love” and where it will almost certainly look like you are really having a good time, this to the envy of all your fans out there – really and otherwise and real or not.
I mean, can I argue with any of this? No, of course not, I’m just a facilitator in the process – of the recording process that is.
And the “Then and Now” component? Well, because of copyright, confidentiality and all that, cannot show any of the before images. However, as a “now” thing, all this is about as “now” as it gets – this in terms of Hong Kong in its present state in this present time and the people who come to visit this city. Selfies are a very now thing, the fashions are where these people are today and all these moments are very now moments. These moments – no, not mine – are as about as precious now as they were then when they were taken then. Other than the process, what’s different here from those images found in one of your grandmother’s picture albums and the images floated out on the web? Very little that can I see.
Ah yes, different and difference. Yes, there is a “difference” here. The people in front of my lens are not “subjects” as per the images of the photographer I’ve been “shadowing” in this project. In a sense, I’ve been photographing the photographs, photographing the photographer so to speak. While that photographer was photographing the Hong Kong then, I’m photographing Hong Kong now. Of taking pictures of people taking selfies of themselves, this is not part of any real remit other than photographing what is going on Hong Kong now.
Going back to that “decisive moment” conversation and the word “obsequious”. This stuff and its pursuit is so “obsequious” that it almost borders on the trite, the cliched and the kitsch and, that’s about as “now” as all this gets. Enjoy…
You can find out more about Rogan and why he does what he does here on his ‘Artist Statement’ page.
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originally written and posted on 140625 – reposted on 190119