This morning, as I lay abed, contemplating this and that, I thought of a friend of mine who used to have a job at a hospital in Halifax. Her job was to draw body parts, specifically organs of reproduction. I'm not sure why, but I do know that this is one job that has become redundant. It was redundant when she was doing it but they hadn't caught up to their technology yet.
Artists, in days of yore, had to work from life or often death in order to study how the human body looked. Canada sent war artists to at least two wars in order to record what was happening. Henry the Eighth had Holbein draw the
'Flemish Mare', as he so kindly called his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. He felt he had been hoodwinked but clever Anne survived the marriage and the divorce.
Now, as many of you know, I love photography. I feel completely at home with a camera in front of my face, with my legs resting slightly wide on the ground, the event, the view, the Queen, the octegenarian and the sea cadets, the whale setting a bubble net - whatever it might be. And sometimes I feel bereft that I have forgotten to bring my camera or I can't take my 'good' camera because we're in the canoe, etc...
Do composers now feel terrible if they didn't get a good recording of the concert? Do dancers feel seen enough by the audience or must they also have their performances videoed to know that they exist?
Twice in the past couple of weeks I've read blogs where someone wanted to take a picture or did take a picture of something in nature - both times the technology failed but their words did not. In fact, I dare say, we might not need the pictures as much as we need the interpretation by the writer. Listen to this, " The next day being the 11 of October, we saw the cape on the south shore. This cape being within two leagues to leeward off us, our master greatly doubted that we could not double the same: wherupon the captain told him: you see there is no remedy, either we must double it, or before noon we must die: therefore loose your sails, and let us put it to God's mercy." This is an account called 'Last voyage of Thomas Cavendish' written by Mr. John Jane, 'a man of good observation' and recorded in the book 'Voyages and Discoveries' - Richard Hakluyt, Penguin, England - 1972. In it is a compression of the over a million words collected by Hakluyt on voyages made in the 1600's.
If it were today - it would be a series of videos on youtube. Which isn't a bad thing but the language - the language that arises when that is the only tool one has to delight, fright or ignite the reader!
It is impossible to not be of our own time - how could we avoid it? How would we even know it? And - we must remember, as writers, we have chosen how we want to package the world we see, invent or even distort and that is through the word. The lovely, lovely word!
This is a cautionary tale for anyone who wishes to listen. Our tools aren't the technology available - just as a painter's tools aren't really the easel or the photograph or even the live or dead model but the stroke. Our tools are the word, the sentence, the paragraph or verse, the novel, poem or play. The word.