Are you reading this on your phone? Are you in public or a social situation? What about at home or spending time with your loved one(s)? Chances are pretty high you fall into some combination of the above.
Eric Pickersgill is a professional photographer who took particular notice of this trend.
“I was sitting at a coffee shop in Troy, NY a few weeks after getting married,” Pickersgill said. “I was really homesick, missing my wife, and I saw this family at the café I was in, and they were all on their personal devices.
“I just wanted to be with the people I’m closest with while these people were on their devices while with their immediate family.”
But when he settled into married life with his wife, he realised he was that same family.
“That’s how we spent a lot of our most intimate moments together.”
Pickersgill and his wife often lie in bed focused on their devices. For the photo series 'Removed,' he removed their phones to show just how weird that can be.
'I was implicated in this thing I was looking at,' he said. 'I realised it is an addiction.'
Much of 'Removed,' the name of the photo series, took inspiration from this scene.
'I had to settle up with my own transgressions,' he said. 'It was a way of addressing an issue I had with my own habits, but one I also have with my wife. Maybe it was passive aggressive having her pose for this photo, but it's one that we recreate every night.'
Being a professional photographer, Pickersgill sought to explore the distance technology places between us through his chosen medium, but with a twist -- he uses an old school large-format view camera.
He would identify moments that spoke to him, then approach the subjects about photographing the scene, except removing the personal devices right before the camera goes click.
Instead of simply capturing scenes of people staring at their phones, he wanted to turn the notion of 'photography as fact' on its head.
The idea is to 'strip photography's ability to be fact,' Pickersgill said. So, while exploring a timely and important concept, Pickersgill was also able to meditate on the nature of photography through his work.
'That's exactly the scene I walked in on,' Pickersgill said. 'Other than removing the phones, I didn't have to stage this at all.'
Given the size of his camera and the performative aspect of the series, approaching and interacting with subjects was necessary to create the images; he couldn't simply capture moments from afar.
'The use of personal devices is isolating people from one another,' Pickersgill said. 'I'm trying to use my camera to subvert that. I'm using my camera to approach and connect with people I probably would have never met otherwise.'
For other images, Pickersgill would stage an entire scene to speak to a larger issue beyond technology driving a wedge between us -- like texting while driving.
'I thought the image might strike a chord with anyone who has experienced loss from a texting-while-driving incident,' Pickersgill said.
'Head On' was probably the most staged image of the series. 'My wife was driving the other car and then literally slammed on the brakes to make it look like the car had crossed the centerline.' The photographer also added, 'I love the light on that one. It's coming directly through the sunroof. It's so clear.'
During a project Pickersgill worked on the year prior, he posted an ad on Craigslist for totally free professional photography. He was bombarded with emails and chose some of the more interesting requests. One couple, both previously divorced, wanted a holiday card with their soon-to-be-combined families, but couldn't pay for it. Pickersgill offered up his services and got to know the couple. They then asked him to photograph their wedding.
'I'm a fine art photographer,' Pickersgill said. 'I don't really do commercial work, but I agreed to do it.'
'I went and photographed the whole wedding. I decided not to do a 'Removed' photo that day, but after I packed my camera up, I had this feeling it wasn't time to leave. Not just yet. I got in my car to go, circled the block, and drove by this exact scene. I knew I had to capture that moment.
'The thing I love about 'Michelle and Jimmy' is that it's one of the most religious and sacrilegious photographs at the same time. Not only would I have never met them without the use of technology (Craigslist), but the two of them met on an online dating site. It almost argues my point that these things can bring people together... at least initially.'
While on vacation in West Jefferson, NC with friends, Pickersgill walked out onto the porch -- which had a stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains -- and saw his friends sharing what could have been a romantic moment.
'We were driving the Blue Ridge Parkway and when we stopped to take in the view, she decided to photograph the landscape with her device. The gesture seemed so odd that I removed her device so I could photograph the way she was holding it. The shape of her hand becomes peculiarly unfamiliar.'
'I passed Chris on a rural North Carolina road. He pulled his forklift of sod onto a side road where he was meeting clients who were picking up his product.'
'Cameron was on her scooter near UNC Chapel Hill and was checking her phone at a stop light. By the time I caught up to her she had pulled her scooter over to text a friend she was picking up from campus.'
Courtlyn and Sarah check their news feed as they relax after a day of public education administration.
'I have this fantasy in my head that there will be a backlash against technology because of how it separated kids from their parents and friends when they were young,' Pickersgill said.
'Wendy is close friends with my mother,' Pickersgill said. 'I was just there to observe. Wendy knew I was up to something, but they weren't really performing.'
In the scene, the family is waiting on a pizza to arrive; they were simply 'killing time in their dull moments as time passed.'
'The kids came up and were trying to get attention,' he said. 'But they didn't have devices of their own, so they played with legos.
'A lot of kids their age have their own devices, but these guys don't. They're outliers.
'(Lindsay and Louis) were cozying up to Lindsay's device while waiting in the small front room of a hair salon in Pinehurst, NC. I was there to make a photograph of my father-in-law and saw the young couple on our way out'
'I think photography is a great way to question the world around you and to have a product at the end that you can analyse,' Pickersgill said. 'It may or may not change the world, but it's a way for you to at least step outside of it for a minute and think about it critically.'
'I noticed these two guys at a famous hotdog spot in Raleigh, NC while they were finishing up their meal,' Pickersgill said. 'The guys were really taken back that I noticed them like this, and they talked a lot about wanting to change the way they were using their devices in public.'
'Sometimes I think the photographs are more impactful for the people who perform for these photographs as opposed to the viewer of them.'
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