Value-added unphotography

Honolulu’s Kawaikui Beach Park was displaying its luxe vista of Koko Crater on the left and Koko Head on the right. People had gone to the beach and were duly seeing. I looked toward a cloud that was filling with the early morning sun and did something with a camera.

You could put a picture like this on a postcard. Many people have. The genre has a history bound up with the popular desire for warm sun.

But as to the man asleep on the picnic table just out of the image frame, the camera and I left him untaken. In undocumented words, I can report that the man was wrapped in a sleeping bag and his possessions lay all around him, separately and in shopping bags. Under the table lay the little motorscooter that had carried him to this bed in this park in the middle of an expensive residential neighborhood. He looked perhaps fifty years old, but the faces of the homeless age ahead of schedule. Because the economy of the United States operates under Ayn Rand norms and the sun above the state of Hawaii happens to be warm, there are thousands of such faces to be seen on the streets of Honolulu.

The Ayn Rand norms govern America’s economy of sensation, too. “Look at the picture an artist with a camera took of this homeless man,” say the 4-by-5 foot prints on Larry Gagosian’s walls. “See how sensitive was its technique, and notice how sensitive you have become as you look. The print is priced accordingly. It’s the least you deserve.”

And on the morning when I didn’t press my own shutter button, I helped establish a new price point for that sensitivity. In an Ayn Rand photo-economy, a photograph deliberately untaken acquires  conceptual value as it transits from mere nonexistence into the precious idea of scarcity. Think of it as a negative, enabling the production of many more miserable positives.