As discussed in Part 1, I am a connoisseur of the mundane. Mundanity is where one finds a subject’s essence — its personality, soul and individuality. The artifice of spectacle has little capacity to surprise and delight. But the humility at its periphery comprises all that is life. Within the mundane lies the fragments of every story yet to be told.
Not surprisingly, the discoveries excavated by an observer of the mundane are often interesting only to other mundanologists. I liken my skill to an anthropologist sifting through acres of sand in search of a single bone fragment. To most, the results seem unworthy of the effort. But to the anthropologist and their peers, it’s another piece in the puzzle of life; another key to another door of greater understanding. Sadly, unlike anthropologists, there are no university grants bestowed upon mundanologists. Our toils in the fragmentary riches of life are void of financial reward or social acceptance. In fact, so unappreciated is our work, that I had to neologize the word, “mundanologist.”
Part of the blame falls on errant colloquialism — society’s seemingly universal misunderstanding of the definition of mundane. Heck, even the editors of thesaurus.com got it wrong. If you visit that site and enter the word “mundane,” the first synonym they hit you with is “banal.” Which is downright crazy. Because, to a mundanologist, banality is the antonym of mundanity.
The more highly-evolved Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mundane as “of, relating to, or characteristic of the world.” That pretty much supports what I said back in the opening paragraph — that mundanity is where one finds a subject’s essence; its personality, soul and individuality. In other words, its “characteristics.” Look up “banal” in Merrian-Webster and you’ll see it defined as “lacking originality, freshness, or novelty.” Yup. That’s pretty much the exact opposite of the meaning of mundane, since it implies a homogeny that’s totally at odds with the idea of character. For me, “banal” results from pomp and spectacle — events manufactured precisely for the purpose of encouraging homogeny. It’s only when homogeny is removed that a subject’s true character is seen.
But little by little, over the past several years, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to uncover those moments of sublime mundanity. All the little “tells” and all the quiet moments that define the heart of humanity are being absorbed into the glowing glass screen of the smart phone.
Mundanity still exists. But it has become privatized — a secret conversation between human and smart phone. Because of this, my techniques for observing and recording the mundane have become obsolete. Physical manifestation of the mundane has diminished significantly as humanity now engages with it through these ubiquitous and indistinguishable portals.
Mundanity, which was once on display for anyone curious enough to observe, is now hidden within the banality of conformity. All one witnesses is a sea of humans — totally removed from their environment; heads down, noses to the phone; oblivious, withdrawn, and utterly self-absorbed.
So what is a certified mundanologist to do? How does one go about photographing that which is now hidden? I wish I knew. Perhaps mundanity can be synthesized — created through artificial circumstances in some sort of “lab environment.” Maybe this involves moving my photographic efforts back into the studio? Maybe it means manipulating my environment to force mundanity away from the smart phone? Maybe it means I move on to photographing mundanity in a species without opposable thumbs — I don’t know. All I do know is that my photographic forte is accelerating toward extinction. What lies beyond is still a mystery.
©2017 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS:
For the majority of this site’s nine-year existence, I’ve enumerated the camera, lens, film and developing technique used for nearly every photo that accompanies each article. Frankly, it’s the single most pointless use of keystrokes on ULTRAsomething.com — an insignificant vestige of this site’s beginnings as a photography blog. Photos are about what they communicate, not what created them. So I’ve made an executive decision, and have eliminated the inclusion of technical info going forward.
That’s not to say that I won’t ever have anything to say about the photos themselves — au contraire. Sometimes there are stories behind the photos — stories that may amuse, entertain or even enlighten. So the “About the Photos” postscript will likely continue as needed.
“Moribundity” is a literal representation of what I see, day in and day out, on the streets of Vancouver. It stands as Exhibit A for the prosecution, which argues that there is no longer a need to always carry a camera in-hand every moment that I’m out in public.
“Prelude to a Lost Weekend” and “Communications Breakdown” stand as Exhibits A and B for the defense, which counter-argues that I should always have a camera in hand, no matter where I walk or how short the trip.
“Augury” is exactly that — a sign that I need to find another path. While “Prelude to a Lost Weekend” and “Communications Breakdown” indicate that there’s still mundanity to be mined on the streets of Vancouver, the occurrences are spaced too infrequently to keep up with my need to keep my shutter finger lean and muscular. I must grow. I must find another path.
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