Which Call to Heed (Sydney Australia December 2015)
On the face of it this photograph is a reasonably okay street photograph of a woman on her phone juxtaposed alongside a statue with a view to the wonderful and famous Sydney Harbor Bridge in the background.
But it is one of those ‘ordinary’ street photos that actually has a lot going on; it’s got a story and even poses questions and delivers messages about our relationship to our environment, technology and even our history.
To be carried away by the current, to be dissolved by the other. That, dear reader, is the rather ponderous name of this quite delicate statue. It was created in 2014 by Sangeeta Sandrasegar in response to a commission by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney.
The fiberglass sculpture is a merchild, a mythological creature with the head of an ancient fish and the body of a child. It sits on the roof terrace of the Museum and faces across the harbor to the sea beyond. A fossil of this 419 million year old fish was found recently in China and is thought to be the earliest common ancestor of jawed vertebrates, including humans (just by way of introducing a fascinating fact).
According to the artist, the merchild travels the seas and bears witness to our seafaring activities. It is a site specific work and is a reflection on our changing relationship with, and distancing from, the sea. This alienation has been brought about, in part, by advances in technology, a few results of which (such as the bridge) are evident in the development of this particular spot on the foreshore of the harbor.
And, of course we can see another type of modern technology in the form of the woman’s phone. The photo can be seen as pretty obvious in meaning: look at the way the statue is pointing upwards. And there is this person hunched over, looking down, and speaking on her phone. Hence the title Which Call to Heed? This title is not referring to any kind of ‘heavenly call’, but poses the question: Do we stop and look around us at both the manmade and natural beauties in our environment? Or do we allow ourselves to remain blinkered by and tied to the technology that is meant to serve us?
Let me set the scene here: There is a rooftop restaurant just behind where I stood to make this photo. This woman had just left her table of maybe six or eight people to answer a call. She’d rushed over to the shelter of the wall, hunched down to hear (the noise from that restaurant was unbelievable), then after a time, she turned and started to walk back to her table, still talking. That was the moment I pressed the shutter.
There she was, presumably enjoying lunch with friends before or after touring the museum. Her phone rang, and of course she answered it, thereby interrupting her lunch and conversation. Of course we have no idea if it was a work call, a family emergency, or just a hello from a friend. Whatever the case, she jumped up from her seat and raced over to the wall in order to take the call.
Now there is absolutely no reason we can’t answer both calls; the call that comes from our environment (which in this particular case included friends and a good lunch in a world class art museum with views of the famous bridge and harbor), and the call that comes to us by way of the technology we have created to make our lives better. Of course we can do both.
I guess I’m not offering any answers here: Just posing the question as food for thought. Besides, I actually really like this photo; for me, It works on a number of levels. It’s also a good piece of observation of one (perhaps more?) aspect of the human condition in our time.