White Noise

June 22, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I recently read Don DeLillo's priceless novel White Noise, motivated to do so when I found the below passage from it in a collection of essays by David Foster Wallace.  It reminds me of all the back-and-forth I see in social media about photographing, over and over again, the icons of our American landscape; monuments and scenes that adorn every calendar in the nation, the Arches, Half Domes, and Canyons both Grand and modest all with a permanent cadre of photographers dutifully stationed before them, 24-hours a day.  It's why I took this photograph and why I'm posting DeLillo's view of what's going on here.  Just substitute "rock" for "barn" as you read. 

Soon the signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site.  There were forty cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot.  We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated site set aside for viewing and photographing.  All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits.  A man in a booth sold postcards and slides--pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot.  We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers.  Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in little book. 
     "No one sees the barn," he said finally.
     A long silence followed.
     "Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn."
     He fell silent once more.  People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced at once by others.
     "We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one.  Every photograph reinforces the aura.  Can you feel it, Jack?  An accumulation of nameless energies."
     There was an extended silence.  The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.
     "Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender.  We see only what the others see.  The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future.  We've agreed to be part of a collective perception.  This literally colors our vision.  A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."
     Another silence ensued.
     "They are taking pictures of taking pictures," he said.
     He did not speak for a while.  We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.
     "What was the barn like before it was photographed?" he said.  "What did it look like, how was it different from other barns, how was it similar to other  barns?  We can't answer these questions because we've read the signs, seen the people snapping pictures.  We can't get outside the aura.  We're part of the aura.  We're here, we're now."
     He seemed immensely pleased by this. 


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