“I got a crown up in’a that kingdom, ain’t that good news?”
-From “Good News,” African American spiritual
Compiled by J.W. Work, 1940
Photographers (like other image makers, and in some ways more than other image makers) shape the raw materials of visual memory for which narrative is the engine, the energetic structure. If what and how memories are held parallel the construction of identity, then in contemporary (American, youth) society, photographers play an important function in the shaping of identity.
By photographers I mean anyone who draws with light, anyone who uses a camera. I mean all of us.
Together, the collection of images to which we all contribute (informed and influenced by our imaginations) inform and influence our capacity to imagine.
I don’t know what it means to be human outside of what I’ve been told. I do have access to, without anyone telling me, considerations around what it is to have (or be) a consciousness. This exploratory element is (or appears to be) the defining characteristic of consciousness.
Exploration is always a form of creation. Creation is always a form of exploration. Exploration and creation are consciousness in action.
I know that Replication sometimes calls itself creation, when it is actually the quelling of the creative and explorative in the name of a totally different impulse, characterized by its focus on the material quantifiability of the thing. This material quantifiability springs from a systemic yearning for epistemic closure, for the closing of the question.
We’re encouraged in contemporary (American, youth) culture to replicate the good as often as possible. We’re told that if a thing we made (or found; even if that thing is an idea, especially if it’s an idea) is good, then a thousand of those things is very good, and a million must be great. That if we can convert the product of our explorations into something quantifiable, then the real rewards can at last be reaped of them.
Something is salable only when it has discrete (or at least apparent) limits in the world. Something is moveable only once it is defined. Definition and reproducibility have twin impulses in our world—they both turn us away from the exploration of that which has been defined (first by conception, then solidified in definition by its reproduction).
I suspect that for a consciousness, the only limitations to identity are limitations imposed on imagination and exploration. There are always reasons for these limitations. Whether the reasons are good or not has to do with the orientation of one’s heart. If certain images or narratives threaten (or appear to threaten) the fidelity of a structure, it makes sense for that structure to do what it can to limit those images or narratives, even to appropriate them in order to neutralize their impact.
I do know that whatever humanity means, it means I move through the world clothed by the images and narratives, conscious and unconscious, into which I was (we all were, are) born. I doubt these limitations can be transcended so long as I have a body or other apparent form narrative can target.
My concern as an imagemaker and storyteller, however, is as follows: What responsibility to the source of consciousness do I have? If as a steward of the imaginative impulse I am inclined to produce imagistic and narrative invitations to question, which questions best serve this source?