I look at photography books all day long when I'm not shooting.
Recently, I pulled off the shelf a Time-Life photo book that I bought in 1970. It had been decades since I last looked in that book. As I sat in a comfortable chair in a comfortable, warm room with the book in my lap, wearing the appropriate pair of reading glasses, I looked at the table of contents, saw where I wanted to go and went there.
It was a wonderful experience for many reasons: it was real, it was tactile, it had texture, it had aroma, it made a sound as I turned the pages, I felt the weight of it on my lap. It was mine and it brought back first memories of looking at it as an adolescent. It was such a different experience than looking at images on my phone, or even on a laptop or desktop computer.
But the thing that struck me most was that it was a private moment between me and that book. No algorithm noted which book I grabbed, or tracked what I looked at in the Table of Contents, or which page I turned to, or how long I lingered over any one particular photograph, or whether or not I read the caption. No one left a cookie in my book.
I will not see an advertisement this morning, when I read the newspaper online, related to something I saw in that book. My viewing of that book will not help build a profile of me at Amazon or Google.
So many people today have given themselves over to the digital world, the virtual world, almost against their will. It is easier and cheaper to collect websites rather than books. Besides, where do you go to browse photo books anymore? And once you are there, the selection is very limited. Most current photo art books are post-post-modern nonsense.
It is astounding how people seem to be giving themselves over to an all electronic world. Light strikes an object, which reflects electromagnetic radiation that is focused by lenses and projected onto a sensor, which generates electrical signals that are stored on a device that is inserted into a computer where the electrons flow through various processors to a screen where little diodes generate new electromagnetic photons that strike our eyes, which focus the rays once again on our retinas, which generate an electrical signal that passes through our processors, which push the final signal to our cerebrum, which combines those signals with a lifetime of electrochemically stored information to generate a conscious, virtual image of what the photographer saw.
I am not a fan of the movie, Matrix, but that seems where we are headed. Inevitable? Probably. But for me, I will relish the last vestiges of a real world. In fact, I'm buying photo books at a faster pace now than ever before.