Walking to a Massive Attack show to see Britney Spears lose a memory card

Print your photos, Jaron Lanier's data idea, Danny Lyon on Robert Frank & more!

Last Thursday I walked from my apartment in Queens to Radio City Music Hall for a Massive Attack show that was re-scheduled from March. I’ve listened to them since my college days in the 90s (yep) and remember hearing good reviews of their collaboration with Adam Curtis at the Armory in New York a few years ago, so I was excited for the show.

It was gloomy afternoon as I left my apartment and there was a good chance of rain but by my calculations I thought I’d be able to make it into the city before it arrived. I caught a little drizzle on my walk over the Queensboro Bridge but I didn’t mind, it felt like appropriate weather for the night. I arrived early, splurged on a lobster roll and and a glass of wine, then got in line for the show.

I settled into my seat and watched the place slowly fill up, the buzz building until the audience nearly grew impatient by the late start. Just in time, the lights dropped and curtain opened, show time.

The concept for the tour was a reinterpretation of their breakthrough album ‘Mezzanine’ and included another film collaboration with Adam Curtis about the events that have taken place since 1998 and how technology has shaped, and dominated our experiences.

It was great to hear many of the classic songs but I what I found most interesting was the combination of music and visuals. I’ve watched most Adam Curtis movies, and generally find them engaging, and interesting, so the combo struck the right chord with me. There were some Jenny Holzer type messages mixed in as well which I didn’t find as effective but that’s a minor quibble.

Overall, the show hit the right tone for me, and felt like something divergent from the typical concert. I left not only with a new appreciation for the music but also with some thoughts on photography, history and technology, a few of my favorite topics.

Near the end of the show there was a clip from 2007 of Britney Spears and a bunch of paparazzi looking for a memory card she lost on a Hollywood street. I’d never seen it before but it was mesmerizing in that context, and I think many other in the audience felt the same. I can’t pinpoint the reason for sure but as you can see in the clip she was genuinely concerned that she lost the memory card, and I suspect many in the audience could relate to something similar happening. I know I certainly did as I’ve had corrupted cards in the past and have accidentally deleted photos without a backup.

Since the rise of digital photography there’s been a couple of issues that have stirred frequent anxiety and dialogue: the fragility of digital storage (on hard drives, in the cloud, on social networks) and the devaluing of photographs.

I feel that these two anxieties have collided and for many people, once the photograph is shared digitally, and the defined audience has engaged with it, that’s it, it has served it’s purpose and there’s no reason to ever look back. It reminds me that I should probably read Nathan Jurgenson’s book The Social Photo to get a better understand of this topic.

Still, I do think there’s value in going back to look at old photographs, and certainly value in preserving them for the future. Writer Jacqui Palumbo waded into this topic over on Artsy with an interesting essay.

‘Our photos will outlive us—not necessarily through the passing down of family albums anymore, but on hard drives and social networks. We can all benefit from being more mindful with where we keep our images and how we back them up. We can also look to the words that inspired photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson: “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.” By being more considerate of when we take an image, and how many images we accrue, we can learn to cherish them a little more.’

Naturally, I took to Twitter to write a thread with some reactions to the article.

I would venture to say most professional and serious minded amateur photographers will have prints and books made to preserve their work. There’s an innate understanding of the value of print amongst that group, but for the broader population, I’m not sure the thought crosses their mind about printing photos, or they just feel overwhelmed about the volume of photographs so don’t bother.

Which photos should be printed? I suspect that’s the biggest barrier since the cost of making 4x6 prints relatively affordable. Editing is tough, takes times and can be frustrating, so it’s a big hurdle for people. My guess is that most people will rely on technology to create sets of the ‘best’ or most important photos, once again, at the mercy of the algorithm.

Google photos is already down this path with some interesting tools and I’m sure Instagram will release features at some point as well. I think in the future, there could be more boutique services that cater to people who want a more bespoke edit of their personal photographs which I think could be cool! The photo album can take on a new life, and I’m sure we’d see some innovative vernacular photobooks as well.

Looking at old photographs can provoke memories and feelings that can have a surprising impact on us emotionally. I think we’ve all had the experience of looking at an old photograph and having the complex memories flood back, stirring different types of emotions from joy, sadness, regret, nostalgia, you name it, the full spectrum. That’s the power of photographs. I think there’s a lot of value in revisiting these photographs and memories which can make us wiser in the future. We can always learn.

So, I think we should all look at our old photos more often, print them out, make photobooks, even they do stir up complex emotions. It’s healthy and I think the effort and work that’s put into it might make us feel less anxious about the photographs we’re creating.

Further Reading

“Like many of us, I have become acutely conscious of the way my brain degrades when I strap it in to receive the full barrage of the internet—those unlimited channels, all constantly reloading with new information: births, deaths, boasts, bombings, jokes, job announcements, ads, warnings, complaints, confessions, and political disasters blitzing our frayed neurons in huge waves of information that pummel us and then are instantly replaced.” - Jia Tolentino, Trick Mirror via NY Review of Books