In my previous castles-in-the-air notes I made some vague claims about how photographs render modernity tolerable to us as human animals. After due consideration I feel it necessary to note that this is in some sense obvious.
Why is moving to a new city tolerable? Well, for many reasons, but one of them is often
that at least we'll have the photos of our life in the city we're leaving. We have the
photos of many things from the past, and these photos are a piece of why it's tolerable
to us to leave the past behind, to move linearly into the future.
At the same time, this is not universal. There are even in America, that most modern
of places, many people who do not, can not, will not, proceed into the future in the same
ways that I do. Many, many people are rooted to their place, their family, their home.
They remain in the cyclic, and resent the march of progress. Their grandfather
worked in the mine, and their father worked in the mine, and they worked in the mine
until the mine shut down. The fact that working in the mine was incomprehensibly
awful in no way changes the fact that the mine getting shut down is also incomprehensibly
terrible. The cycle, terrible as it was, has been broken.
I don't know if there's anything about photography specifically there.
Some time ago I read a piece that broke down people into the "somewheres"
and the "anywheres." I am an anywhere, I can move, I can find a new place,
anywhere. The scion of the Appalachian coal mining clan is a "somewhere"
who fits only in one place, and for whatever reason cannot leave it. He votes
for Trump, I vote for Biden.
Do photographs define the difference between us? Surely not. But just as surely,
I live a "modern" existence, in that strict sense of linearity, or progress
into a future that is different from the past. He lives a "pre-modern" life,
one in which the future is expected to be, more or less, a repeat of the past.
More accurately one might say that I see a future that differs from the past as
normal and generally good. Our "somewhere" sees a future that differs as a failure,
as a broken system, and generally speaking bad. Both of us live with a future that
is different from the past, but our attitudes differ. This is arguably the
conservative versus liberal divide, phrased in personal terms.
I'd be interested to see if there were any studies about the role photography plays
in the everyday lives of people of various political stripes.