Reconnecting With Our Surroundings: Charlie Schaffer

It is 8:08 at Ripponlea Station on a Tuesday morning. Fellow commuters line the platform, queued like military officers, they are ready to march in unison towards their destination. Engrossed in their treasured devices, each individual occupies a different world of their own. Suddenly, the bell tolls signal the arrival of a Flinders St train. The noise drowns out the Station Attendant’s sharp and direct commuter spiel, which includes changing at Richmond Station to catch an increasingly overworked City Loop train. It’s unlikely the Attendant’s voice carries any significance for the many morning commuters- visibly preoccupied with their various electronic gadgets. Frankly, they have probably heard these instructions many times before.

So, it is stated; never before has the world been so ‘connected’. In the digital-age, increases in technology have led to, among other things, the immediate distribution of news, current affairs and other popular culture at the click/scroll/touch of a button. Ostensibly, despite these developments, I can’t help but feel myself being somewhat less connected with my surroundings.

Now, I’m not in the business of giving unsolicited advice on how to lead one’s life. Notwithstanding structural factors that may impact one’s ability to enhance their social mobility, the beauty is that as individuals we possess autonomy and agency.  However, upon reflection, it appears we are becoming increasingly distanced from one another. While we may occupy the same physical space- a crowded train carriage, a park bench, even a table for two, the presence of highly addictive, limitless online content in the convenience of our pockets creates a tacit distance between individuals; both physically and emotionally. Nowadays, the social ‘fabric’ has become the social ‘.docx’.

To be clear, I am not attempting to rebut the proposition that technology has vastly improved our lives. I, too, recognise the outstanding contribution technology has had for many people in society. What I am attempting to flag is the apparent loss of civilian engagement and discourse in the social arena. Within public life, the ability to genuinely interact with others, explore our physical surroundings and better understand our place in the world are vital ingredients for developing our own individual and unique identities along with developing genuine connections with other individuals. Recognising the beauty of the human condition and the natural space, divorced from depiction on an LED screen, requires defending.

The photos provided here attempt to restate a claim for greater engagement with our surroundings; both socially and environmentally. The very nature of photography requires observation. Film photography in particular forces the photographer to engage with their surroundings, using their eyes with purpose and intent. In this way, the camera merely acts as a vehicle to explore the outside world; an extension of the eye that communicates light, shadow and movement, how the photographer sees these things, back to an audience on the outside. Every aspect of the image is intentional- it has meaning. The composition demands attention to, and engagement with, one’s surroundings.

All photos are my own.


By Charlie Schaffer

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