I went recently, to mark the end of my time at the École Normale Supérieure, to Paris Disneyland.* It was wonderful. I don't know why I'm not writing my PhD about Disneyland — except that, well, I'm not not writing my PhD on Disneyland, given the site's resemblance to a world's fair, and I did take some mental notes on the 'It's a Small World' ride that might make their way into my conclusion.
But anyway: these are some photographs I took.
I didn't take many pictures, for some reason, perhaps for many reasons. Photography isn't allowed on rides, and so much of Disneyland is designed to be experienced and engaged with in a way that I didn't expect; the Park doesn't invite the kind of distance that's necessary for photographs. I expected to be tripping over myself with eagerness to photograph everything, but that wasn't the case — except, perhaps, in the Gibson Girl Icecream Parlour, which is like something out of a Wes Anderson film, and at the Disney Dreams show, an amazing combination of projections and lasers and fireworks that closed the day.
I tried, in the evening, to exercise some self-restraint, though, and so I don't really have photographs of the illuminated castle at all. It's interesting, for me, trying not to take photographs before a spectacle. I kept thinking of Guy Debord. The urge to photograph things, to preserve moments or reconfigure time, is forever being criticised by society as an inability to "live in the moment." I am living in the moment when I take photographs; I'm (literally!) focusing on it. But why do we have to accept these moments as fleeting, as experiences we can't prolong or play with?
I think that taking photographs can be a sort of challenge to the spectacle, a means of engaging actively and constructing one's own experience rather than standing passively amongst a crowd, faces warmed by the glow of somebody else's show. It can also be a challenge to our ideas of time, to our sense that the past is slipping away and that we're powerless in the face of this, that our memories are not real. I'm sure photography limits experiences, but it also enhances them. I don't think that giving up our control, choosing to be present rather than involved, is inherently a good thing.
These are midnight thoughts, though, and they're not at all developed. I went to a book launch earlier and drank a cocktail; I had dinner with a friend afterward and drank another cocktail.
After all, it's neither good nor bad to take photographs; it depends on motivation and on so many contexts. One problem, perhaps, is that people are always guessing at the motivations of others. I began this long tangent by mentioning that I was attempting self-restraint, which acknowledges that my own photographic habits aren't always entirely healthy. I suppose this is because my desire to slow down or reconfigure time is predicated, perhaps, on a fear of losing things or a fear of being lost, of experiences disappearing without witness. I take more photographs when I am alone than when I am with others, though I really like taking photographs of people. I think I sometimes use my camera as a weapon against loneliness. I guess the urge to photograph is, well, a greediness for the world, a fear of the finite?
It's also, perhaps, just a habit. I loved the fireworks and I loved Disneyland. I like photographs, but I don't need them. I should remember that. I should sleep.
*It seems strange that that first sentence is in the singular when I wasn't alone and the experience of place is very intimately linked to company. But there are many elements of my visit to Disneyland Paris on which I'm not dwelling here, and the narrating of experience is always different to lived experience. Parc Disneyland wasn't nearly as empty as it appears in these images!