Of Pictures and the Pope – A Humorous Look at Our Growing Need for Photographs

2015-09-24 22.16.23In all the coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, many are doing an admirable job of analyzing what is being said and done. The nature of this blog is less the coverage of “happening now” news and more a steady pondering of the message of the Gospel and how it relates to our cultural setting.

Permit, therefore, a brief observation of the papal visit from the standpoint of the crowds that flock to see him. Please do not take this as a strong critique, but rather as a humorous commentary on how quirky we can be.

Thus, one of the questions that occurs to me is whether the crowds that assemble to see the Pope really DO see the Pope, or whether they are so busy getting “the picture” that they almost miss the moment. The scramble seems to be less to see him than to get that picture.

I guess I notice this because I live just up the street from the U.S. Capitol and I have noticed for years the tourists going by on the buses. Many of them are so busy taking a picture of the Capitol (a picture they could easily find in a book or on the Internet) that I wonder if they ever see the Capitol with their own eyes.

The strangest and latest twist on this idea that getting the picture is more important than actually seeing, is the notion of the “selfie.” I saw more than a few folks along the route with their backs to the Pope holding up the camera. The “selfie” shows them in the foreground with the Pope passing by in the background. Talk about not seeing the Pope! Quite literally, their backs are turned to him. It seems more important to capture the fact that “I was there” than to actually experience seeing the Pope, or any dignitary or historic site for that matter.

Before digital photography, one had to be judicious in taking pictures. A roll of film had perhaps 24 pictures, and developing and printing the pictures was expensive. Today, the whole process is practically free. Now, hundreds of pictures may be taken whereas only two or three were possible before. This limitation of the past preserved the actual experience and relegated the pictures of it to a lesser role. Today the pictures are increasingly eclipsing the event itself.

Again, please do not take this observation in a weightier manner than it is intended. I am not writing to strongly condemn all of this. I just want to point out, humorously I hope, how quirky we can be, especially in enthusiastic moments. I have written on more significant concerns about the liturgy here: Photos and the Liturgy.

Perhaps a bit of advice is in order to us who frantically seek to get the picture while we risk missing the actual experience: “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

SORRY TO THE COMMENTS SERVER IS DOWN! WE’RE WORKING ON IT! – But The Pope was in town and it was all hands on deck.