Bob Preston made his own simple camera, kept together with electrical tape, to create his series of photographs of students holding and using their cell phones and iPods. The main selling point of the iPod is that it can carry up to 5,000 songs at one time. That is more than enough music to keep most people occupied for any length of time, which makes the iPod the latest must-have piece of technology.
Having captured his images on old-fashioned 4" by 5" black and white film, Preston made life-size silver gelatin prints. Of course, Preston could have chosen to use a digital camera. Instead, he revels in the odd effect created by his homemade instrument. His camera has a very shallow depth of field, which in turn creates fuzzy backgrounds in each image. This blurred effect gives the portraits an Old World feel that is aesthetically pleasing and focuses the viewer's attention first onto the subject's face. The downcast eyes then move the viewer's focus towards the item, or items, that hold their attention. In every image, the subjects appear entranced by their personal devices, and pay no attention to the world and its many miracles around them.
My generation is becoming so over stimulated that it is no wonder there are so many people who can't sit still for one second, so many people with no idea of what goes on outside their cities save for what they see on TV, and so many people who are so easily sold on the idea of instant gratification. Much of the time, I am one of these people. We are listening to music, or scrolling through the menus of our cell phones, each of us isolated in our own diversionary world. Everything must be now! now! now! With a quick little thumb swivel and a click of the play button, all the songs in the digital universe stream into our ears.
Hand held communications devices allow us to communicate only when we want to, which, for many people, when they are tired after a long day's work or just not feeling sociable, is the major attraction. This also means that now we are better able to avoid our surroundings. We are masking them, blurring them, guarding ourselves from the daily uncomfortable moments. How many times have you decided to put on your headphones rather then talk to the person next to you on the bus, or worse, when you've seen someone you know coming your way? I am embarrassed to admit I have done it: pulling my headphones out of my bag, slipping them over my ears, and then pointedly scrolling through the endless music on my iPod until the approaching person gives up on having an exchange and finds a seat somewhere behind me.
Preston's images, with their strange glow created by the high contrast and the blurred edges, with their modest, downcast eyes, also reminded me of how antique masters have painted saints and deities. The features of the girl in the white jacket looking at her cell phone could be those of a Renaissance Mary. Her gaze, however, is focused neither on us, nor on the child Jesus, but on a beautiful little machine. Strangely, the iPods in each picture are blurred, or hard to see, while at the same time seem to glow as though they are some divine talisman, something to be worshipped.
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