In the last two posts we have looked at such questions as rulers changing religious (not to mention political and philosophical) beliefs of their people, and the question of national sovereignty as opposed to perceived national interests. We have used two examples over 3000 years apart – Akhenaten of Egypt and Henry VIII of England. We have looked at the beginnings of an international organization to maintain peace and hopefully enable nations to settle differences as represented by the Western Christian Church, based on Rome, from mediaeval times onwards.
This early organization had its weaknesses. For example it could encourage member states to combine together to make war on a defaulting member or an outsider – not the best if we regard world peace as a Christian ideal. (Crusades). Again, it represented only a proportion of the nations which were within the orbit of the Western European community. Middle Eastern countries and the Byzantine Empire could never be part of the set-up.
However it was a great step forward compared with early history when a powerful nation could create an empire and keep a number of nations in subjection – no question of consultation around the table! Ancient Egypt and later Persia created their areas of influence without the need to refer to an international body, so the Western Christian Church was a big step forward in international affairs. After Spain and Portugal had made their voyages to Central and South America each felt that the world was literally “its oyster”. There was huge potential for conflict between the two, which would have involved other nations as well. Papal intervention ensured that a line could be drawn dividing the huge new tracts of the world now in dispute peacefully between the disputing parties.
Philosophers/Idealists did explore the concept of “world” cooperation and world government from early times. In practical terms it was always regarded as requiring the sacrifice of too much national sovereignty. Every nation could envisage a situation where it might have to sacrifice too much of its independence in the general interest. However there were occasions where cooperation in matters of international trade made it possible to avoid a common cause of war. Even disputes over territory could be settled from time to time by nations meeting together.
The period from the 16th. to the 20th. century had seen the encroachment of Western Europe into all the Continents. Wars of conquest, and wars between would-be conquerors, were frequent and costly. The culmination of all this was the bloodbath of 1914-1918, the First World War – dubbed by some as “The War to End All Wars”. (Interestingly it was also described as “The Great War For Civilization” – did they really believe that?) As a consequence the League of Nations was set up. Sadly The League has been condemned as a failure – but it was a colossal advance in world thinking. It did not stop war. It was condemned for” having no teeth” which sounds an unfair comment on a peaceful body. But a key issue relevant to our discussion was that it must infringe too much on some members’ policies, notably those of the “great dictators”, who found resignation the appropriate answer.
The next attempt at following on from the two earlier international bodies was the United Nations after the Second World War. Again similar problems emerged in countries being frustrated when their policies were called into question. Again, a problem was its location in the USA, the most powerful participant in the War. A location in somewhere neutral and small – as had happened with the League – might have been more easy to accept. As so often sovereignty rears its head, and nations see resignation from the general body as the only solution.
We mentioned earlier the occasional coming-together of nations involved in mutual trade and commerce voluntarily agreeing in policy for their mutual advantage. Three tiny nations, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxemburg formed the Benelux group after the War. The European Coal and Steel Community was formed around the same period for the general good.
Out of all this emerged the Common Market concept, and the European Community. The Vatican , Geneva, New York were succeeded by Brussels (perhaps as a tribute to Benelux origins?) Regulations governing trade, manufacture etc., etc., became perhaps bureaucracy for its own sake in the eyes of many. The concept of breeding a “straight banana”, creation of “lakes” of unwanted milk and butter mountains etc. in a starving world did not appeal to all. Paying farmers not to grow food or to destroy their crops seemed strange to many. No doubt much good was done , but it is always the crazy stuff which makes an impact on “the man in the street”. And it is he who in a democracy has the vote.
One very interesting and hopeful aspect of the European Community was the European Parliament. The concept of moving from cooperation in trade, commerce, manufacture into the political scene was a great step forward. But how did England feel about it all? One indication all along was that England retained the Pound Sterling and did not adopt the Euro. Henry VIII must have been cheering on the sidelines. That was a warning sign that perhaps was ignored – it indicated only conditional support of the project. Again we are faced with an island’s sovereignty, and with a stubborn independence. Western Europe under the unifying influence of the Church, under Napoleon, Hitler, and the European Community is used to a “group concept” – England is not. Confused? Join the club! A Happy Hallowe’en to all.
No – not a new brand of photography – just a simple question – “Where is photography going? What sparked these random thoughts off was a recent article in that excellent UK journal “Black and White Photography”. The topic being covered was a “new” aspect of the noble art, photography with an i-phone. I became aware that now we can get all sorts of apps. to make our phone so much more sophisticated as a picture-taking instrument. When the cell-phone with camera facility came in some years ago it was hailed as the tool of everyone desirous of making pictures. No cost, since you had paid for a phone facility already, and able to be used by everyone regardless of skills. And after a couple of years of the development process good pictures could be achieved at the touch of a button. No bells and whistles. Now that is all changing.
The interesting thing is that this is the third time at least that photography has gone through the same sort of process. A few years ago photographers were going through a reaction to automated sophisticated cameras which produced a perfect picture with the minimum of effort. The challenge they said, had gone. Two answers emerged. One was the move back to the sort of camera so many started on about the age of six or eight. The Diana camera and others of the same ilk were sought in attics, cupboards, junk shops. The slightly fuzzy image, getting more so toward the edges, became the last word in “arty photography”. But before we knew where we were cameras were being manufactured and sold to produce the new image. Needless to say a few dollars would no longer meet the specifications.
Another attempt to get away from the perfect image was the pinhole camera. Now a pinhole camera was photography at its most basic – such as a shoebox with insulation tape around the lid to keep out the light’ a sheet of film at one end and a (literally) pinhole at the other. All producing interesting unpredictable effects, and putting the fun back into photography. But what happened? The same result – bye-bye shoebox and now you could buy a sophisticated manufactured item with a lens. Now surely the lens has no role in true pinhole photography?
So we have interesting opposing forces at work. Sophisticated technology producing perfection which becomes boring/undemanding, a move towards simplicity followed by “commercialism” bringing the sophistication back. And I am not blaming “commercialism”- manufacturers would not introduce the new lines if they did not believe we would fall for them. Has our affluent society produced a race of people with two opposing aspects – a desire for simplicity overcome by a desire for the latest, the “best”, the easiest?
What will our next answer to boring perfection be? Does this year’s model DSLR really take a “better” picture than last year’s? How do we define a “better”picture? Perhaps we should be limiting ourselves to being better photographers – I know I need to do that. Perhaps in five or ten years someone will invent “film”.