Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

14 June 2011

Putting Ourselves in a Place, This Place

We’ve talked a lot about being in a space and what it means to occupy that space. How do we utilize it, how does it change when others use it? Our example was the air, which to us is just empty or full of clouds. It’s something that airplanes move through and we’re passive riders along for the experience on an absurdly expensive bus. For a pilot, the air is full of places. For everyone else, the sky is, quite literally, space.

Why is it important to get pictures of yourself at a location? In the age of Facebook, we can joke about having the obligatory profile picture of you in London, Paris, or an even somewhere more obscure. Also, why take pictures at all? I’ve recently spent more money on a digital camera than I intended only because it would take more detailed pictures. I could go online and find pictures of those locations later and save myself the money. I can still show my friends where I was; I just hadn’t taken those pictures myself.

And why put yourself in those locations, as in, into the pictures? Your friends don’t want to see you there; they want to (if at all) see the places themselves. “Oh, that’s where you were! That’s so beautiful/interesting/bizarre!” When visiting busy tour destinations we have to get pictures of the famous structures that we should be visiting such as the Eiffel Tower, Westminster Abbey, the Matterhorn, San Marco’s in Venice, etc.

I suppose I have to answer this way:

I saw these things. I took these pictures. Others saw me here. I wanted you to know that I was there”.

I answer in this way because I at least want to remember seeing those pictures from my vantage point. This was what it was like to see (in this case) Dundee if you were me. Here is what you would have seen. This is how you would have seen it. I offer these pictures to you as a way to communicate my view of the world, to show you what I saw as strange and beautiful. These were the notable things. I want you to share this with me since you couldn’t be here.

And I will want to know I’d made it there. Memory is a tricky thing. We can remember events how we want to, at least in some cases. The narrative of our lives can be subject to edits, rewrites, alterations, and in some cases deletions. I want to remember not just the place, but that for a moment in time I occupied it. I may not remember the hint of salt in the air, the clean fragrance I associate with large bodies of water. I may forget what it’s like to hear seagulls calling out across the Tay. Even the independent recollection of seeing old buildings and streets which have existed for hundreds of years may fade, tasting Scotch Whiskey for the first time, or remembering the moment at which the Scottish accent became normal to listen to. Those specific details can be captured (at least some of them) in video, audio, and still photography. I can’t figure out how to save the smell or even that feeling of being somewhere else.

But I’m working on it.

At least with the pictures I can know, even if memory fades or fails, that I was there. I was there with my friends and classmates, with professors and instructors. I met people five thousand miles away from what I tenuously call home. I take pictures of everything because I want to capture as much of this space as I can. Flipping through an album later I want to be able to in some way walk down Perth Road and catch glimpses Newport-on-Tay through breaks in the gray stone buildings. I’ll be reminded of the feel and sound of a wind that seems to never stop as it rushes off the sea.

So I take these pictures and put myself in them, to say, “I was here”. Maybe you were here with me. Hopefully you could have been. And if you weren’t I can show you a small part of what it was like. You can share with me something of my journey. I would have liked to have you along.

One more thought. Adam, a classmate, mentioned rocks at the Amsterdam airport with messages left on them for no one in particular. Airports are transitory places. We shuffle through them dashing from one terminal to another, or rushing to the bar after or before a long flight. But someone started leaving messages on rocks at the base of trees inside. No one is sure who started this. No one knows why.

I will hazard a guess. The travelers, those in transition, who move through the spaces of this world wanted to leave something that said, “Hello, whoever you are. Like you, I am moving from one place to another. I wanted to share this with you so that you, whoever you are, might know for the briefest moment, that I was here.”

We worry, in our more existential moments, that the world may not notice or care that we occupied it. In a cave in France, someone reported about their space and time on a wall. They drew in the light of a fire—a fire that spread and pulled us out of the rocks and the woods and into the small towns and eventually the sprawling cities we would eventually possess—a story of their lives. They told us, indirectly, that they too were part of this world, however briefly. We were left a written reminder, a message painted on rock.

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