Space, the final frontier, perhaps something William Shatner repeated recently on his all too short trip into space. Space, it is big though, right ? If we try and comprehend how big space is we might consider ourselves as a grain of sand on the Earth by comparison to its never ending enormity or perhaps even smaller again, like a single electron compared to the size of our Sun.
Taking time into consideration as well, our lives are also small, so very short when compared to how long it’s been since time began. Time now seems so fleeting, everything changes so quickly. We measure everything in terms of our own lifespan, which itself accelerates from a standing start at birth, seemingly passing by at increasing speed until the day of our passing. Every day we experience, leaves us with a smaller percentage of our life remaining. I remember as a child thinking a lifetime literally seemed like forever, but then adjusting that thought more and more as I got older, until I am literally counting the years remaining, based on some sort of meaningless average life expectancy dreamed up by some insurance company button pusher.
In the bigger picture though, you could say fleeting describes everything in our lives, buildings get built and they get knocked down for new ones, advertising hoardings are renewed every few weeks, roads are diverted from here to there, trees grow only to be chopped down, our surroundings are in a constant state of flux just as one graffiti tag is sprayed over by another.
Faced with the enormity of space & time it makes me question the importance of photography and the things we photograph. I’ve always thought that photography is important, and in particular the physicality of analogue photography. Its importance being that it is a means of sharing with future generations how things used to be, how things were before that particular fleeting moment was gone and never to be captured again.
Then again, photography only began in 1826 when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce made his now famous photograph ‘View From The Window at Le Gras’. That’s just 195 years ago, a very short period when viewed in the context of the life of the Earth.
Even if we broaden our outlook from just photography and consider the oldest paintings, the oldest known cave paintings are in the region of 40,000 years old. With such an age, we are perhaps starting to see something with significant survivability. Or are we ? When considering the bigger picture, 40,000 years is only around 0.0001% of the life of the Earths 4.5 billion years. (even if I don’t have my decimal point in the right place it’s still tiny) and compared to the life of the Universe at 13.8 billion years, that’s just 0.00003%, that’s not a significant amount of time at all. So who cares if an image lasts 10 seconds on Snapchat or 40,000 years in a cave, does it make any difference ?
Its Life Jim
To quote another captain of the starship USS Enterprise, Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard once said “Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again”
In that quote Jean-Luc nicely sums up where I was taking these thoughts before the enormity of everything cerebrally plunged me down the black rabbit hole of spacetime. For sure, it’s ever so easy to feel insignificant if we loose sight of our own journey.
The Next Generation
It is indeed up to us to cherish the time we have, and if we can record and pass on snippets of our lives as we experience them to our future generations, then perhaps we can help enrich and provide context to those future lives, especially when they start asking those very same existential questions as posed right here. Through those photos we can let them know that we boldly went, like nobody had been there before.
So a bit like a time travelling astronaut, I’ve gone on a journey and come back to where I started. Photography is important, especially important if we can make those images into printed photographs to be printed well and stored safely, to be passed on to new lives to see how people & things used to be. I do believe if we want to know about today, we really need to understand what happened yesterday, and how better than having an old picture to look at.
All photographs apart from 1&2 taken and processed by myself using analogue equipment, prior to digital conversion for publication purposes.
© Copyright owner Steve Starr. First publication 20th November 2021