The other night I went home and found that an American couple was in my apartment purchasing a painting from my roommate, who’s an artist. It turns out they live on Nantucket, and we wound up talking for a long time. At some point the conversation turned to photography, and the boyfriend told me that he has a lot of camera equipment and is a big photography buff. That was something I could easily understand.
But I was surprised when the conversation took a sharp turn, and everyone started discussing how stupid it is of people to take pictures of themselves in front of large monuments or other places where tons of tourists have already taken shots. He mentioned that he traveled all over India and never had any interest in seeing the Taj Mahal because there are already thousands of pictures of it online. In Iran, he was taken to some of the most beautiful mosques in the world, but would instead take pictures of graffiti on a wall around the corner.
I could definitely understand seeing an interesting angle in some graffiti near a mosque, or not wanting to go to a place that is too touristy, but I don’t appreciate the elitist attitude on the personal photography aspect. At the time I was polite and didn’t offer much of a contest, simply saying “uh-huh”, and “yeah.” But the more that I think about it, the more it bothers me. I’m somewhere between an amateur photographer and mere photo enthusiast, but I still like to get a picture taken of me in front of a monument from time to time.
I won’t go so far as the self portrait, which I’m not a fan of, but I don’t worry about it if other people do it. To each his own, and it’s none of my business if people want to take an off-centered picture of a famous statue behind them. I’ll just keep my mouth quiet and take my pictures the way I want to. The whole point of photography is to capture a moment and have a memory of something, so you can prove that you were there and a part of something. That’s why we take pictures in the first place. It’s supposed to be something fun, which explains the smiling rather than frowning. If I get a picture of myself in front of Iguazú Falls or the Eiffel Tower, so what? I want to look back when I’m an old geezer when my brain is going out the window and say, “Ha! I knew I was there. See?!”
I was a bit taken aback, then, by the highbrow comments in my apartment. Those talking made the impressions that you have to be an idiot or a materialistic jerk to want a picture of yourself unless it was done in an artistic manner. I’m all about going for more interesting photos, but I’d like to get the photo first too. And honestly, if I’m standing in front of the pyramids and snap 100 photos of a Coke can on the ground before I take one of the pyramids, what does that accomplish? I can look back and say I saw a piece of garbage? Who am I taking these photos for then?
If you travel for the right reasons, you don’t go to the Taj Mahal to take a picture; you go there to see a work of art that has been standing for centuries. You go there to experience something that most people in the world aren’t fortunate enough to witness. And you go there to see how it affects you. Taking the picture is a side effect of how it makes you feel. If you liked it enough you’ll take a picture. Often I find I don’t need to take a picture of a place I’ve been. Sometimes you have to deal with the street kids begging for money or the pickpockets, but that’s always a part of travel all over the world, so should you only go to empty villages instead? Places are popular for reason, generally. And if the trash on the ground is what captivates you, then take a picture of that. It’s all about how you want to remember it, and not all photography has to be art.
All I’m trying to say is, photography is an extension of how travel makes you feel. There are certainly people who snap away mindlessly, hoping to record every moment without even seeing the place unless it’s through a viewfinder or lens. But again, to each his own. Just keep that in mind the next time you see someone taking a picture, be it of the Washington Monument or a leaf in the gutter.
Above: Photos I have taken, for whatever reason