This morning while standing in the shower, I observed a stream of water running down my forehead, dripping beads from my eyelashes. I felt each drop ramp off my lash and fall in front of my eye, bounce against my chest and find its way to the drain. The flow formed drops with a regular frequency; I tilted my head to quicken the drips, turning it into a tributary before me. I focused on the sound of running water while staring at the shower head.
I wandered around the mall for an hour and a half specifically to photograph the spectacle of "black friday", only to leave the building without a single photo. Fully aware of the legal grey-area that is mall photography, I didn't want to shoot indiscriminately. I spent some time looking for visuals that would describe the shopping phenomenon and silently condemn such crass consumerism. Surely I'd be able to find an example at the Cambridgeside Galleria.
But then something hit me. Most of the people I saw seemed to be ordinary, "middle class" Americans. They weren't flaunting their wealth or relishing in materialism. They looked like victims, shuffling from store to store, floating along in life with the inertia of a society bred to consume. I wondered if people understood why they felt compelled to shop today. If the only reason to buy something today is that it's a little bit cheaper, maybe you didn't need the thing in the first place. Or if shopping for a gift, what message does it send to the recipient? "I bought this thing for you because it was on sale." Hmm.
Instead of cynicism, I felt shame. How could I photograph unknowing victims of a well-funded brainwashing campaign as if they were to blame? We're a nation of cattle, but with one significant difference: free will. It doesn't take much prodding to realize the futility and meaninglessness of an unfettered lust for more "stuff". A cow can't just march off the farm and decide not to be slaughtered, but people can renounce artificiality and materialism.
At any rate, I didn't know how to represent the contradiction and the dynamic going on in this mall. Should I show a mass of people shopping? What does that image mean without the context I'm talking about — especially since the mass is made of individuals who each have a story, with motivations and intentions. I was stuck.
A guy close to my age approached me and asked about what I was doing. Then he revealed that he was working for an advertising company trying to sell a salon package to shoppers; unfortunately, his company didn't have a permit to be in the mall, so the three people working had to be very sly in their dealings. We talked about this and that, and I think he briefly tried to sell me the salon thing (I'm teflon to advertising...). But as we were talking I thought that he'd be an interesting example of this whole mess I'd been thinking of -- here was a working class guy, a self-proclaimed punk, from Worcester working for an advertising company from Ontario, trying to sell stuff (without permission) to wealthy people shopping in Cambridge. It's like the barnacle that grows on the whale.
But just as I was about to take his portrait, a sharply-dressed mall stooge told me that I can't take pictures in the mall. He was polite about it, and I didn't ask why or protest because I know about the court cases, and private property, and yadda yadda.
So, that was it. I walked home with a lot on my mind and no answers.