Travel with me to Rome (in your mind of course) and visit the Trevi fountain. This fountain is absolutely stunning and one of the top destinations to visit in Rome. As we push and squeeze our way through the crowd, maneuvering every way possible to get a glimpse of what we came to see, you take a look around. You notice that 90% of the people around you aren’t even staring at the attraction. To your left, a person snapping photos like his life depended on it. Every snap, just minor changes from the one before. Hopefully the attraction doesn’t move before he gets that one last shot! Or you have to your right, someone new that has came into our lives over the past 10 years…Instagram influencers. She carefully situates herself in between the people and acts like she is in a modeling shoot, while her partner takes photos. Different angles, maybe a swish of the hair, a little bit more elevation? Each snap of the camera, she comes back to see how she looks and goes back to pose until its perfect. When did we make the decision that the photograph was more important than the experience itself?
The leaning tower of Pisa is the bell tower for the cathedral in the Italian town of Pisa. It’s famously known for its “lean” because of an unstable foundation. The reason people visit the site? People come from all over the world to take a photo of themselves holding up the tower, as if they were Hercules saving the town from an ultimate demise. I was actually surprised when we made our way to the tower, everyone was out front taking pictures. As I made my way up the tower to get a fantastic view of Tuscany, there were barely any people walking up the steps with me. I saw droves of people come, get a photo of themselves in front of the tower, then walk back to their tour bus or stop at one of the many gift shops in front. Was this the only reason that they had for coming all the way to Pisa? What experience would they talk about when they got home?
As we sat down in the middle of museum island in Berlin, we stared up at the famous Berlin Cathedral. We had recently made our way through two of the museums on the island and we were in need of some down time. We loved the setting, it was a perfect haven for people watchers. There were street performers in front of us, as the crowd watched them do their thing. Various groups of people making their way in and out of the museums, discussing all of life’s nuances. The view itself was unreal, looking up at the massive dome on the cathedral whisks your breath away for a moment. We even jogged down memory lane a bit, thinking back to all the experiences we had that day. That’s when it happened, my partner noticed it first. We looked over to our left and we saw two women occupied with taking photos. One would take a photo of the other, meet to decipher if it was a good angle for her instagram followers, if not, they would continue to shoot. It felt like we were caught in the middle of one of the greatest photo shoots of the modern era. Something that we could see on the cover of Vogue magazine? Ok, maybe that was a little too far! As we watched them go back and forth at the same spot with slightly different angles, the time marched on. It was close to 45 minutes of shooting until they finally decided they had the perfect shot.
Each time we travel, we see this situation more and more. I get it, we have to document our travel so we can go back to our friends and family and prove how much fun we had on our trip. Wait…no, that doesn’t sounds right. I meant documenting for a memory of the time we spent having fun on the trip, so we can recollect our thoughts at a later time! At what point do we get so focused on taking the best possible pictures of an area, that we actually forget to experience the environment we are in? If the experience is simply taking photos of an area, then is there realistically a reason to even go to the site to begin with? When do we make a decision on what lens in our life is more important, our eye or the lens of our camera?
I question this every time I see someone taking 1,000’s of photos of themselves in front of a monument or just the monument itself. After taking the photos, they walk off without even staring at the attraction through their human lens. Photography is one thing, I enjoy taking photos. I love taking photos I should say. Finding that perfect angle of an attraction that can inspire others to fall in love with these amazing places and hope to travel to them one day. I also take time to sit and just look at something. Experience the surrounding area. What are people doing? How does this site fit into history? What did it take for people to create such a modern marvel?
Not all best moments are captured in camera…Most of them are safely locked in our mind as ‘memories’…– Newdawn
Now, even as I say this, I should try to get a deeper understanding of the situation. Is there something I’m missing about people that only experience taking a photo of a location or themselves in front of it? Maybe it’s for the greater good of people, to get people out and experience the world…even if they don’t fully experience it themselves? If they do post these photos for the greater good, are they filtered to become more of a distorted reality vs actual? Will people be disappointed when they visit the location, only to find that it was photoshopped? Two hours of your time finding the perfect angle, all for nothing?
Over the years, I have grown quite fond of photography. This last year I started to translate not just my pictures to words, but also my experiences. Through blogging, I have found an outlet for ideas and I actually forgot how much fun it is to just write. This all started with several friends in the last year, asking for a customer itinerary for places they were going to visit. I would send this to them through email and they would love their experience. I finally decided during quarantine, that I needed to combine my love of writing and photography into one area. Photography is amazing to me, but I’ve never fully agreed with the thought that, “a picture is worth 1,000 words”. If you’re like me, you’ll get to around 47 words and tap out!
Take all of the photos in the world, please. Take blurry ones, off-center, distorted or just goofy. The world is your oyster. Photos are fantastic as a memory of the joy we had at the time or to capture the ultimate essence of a beautiful scene that we just have to share. Remember, that your experience at a place has to be paired with these photos in your mind. When someone asks you about your trip to Rome, don’t say that you took some wonderful photos. Or that you spent 45 minutes and 300 snaps to finally get an Instram worth shot. Say you experienced the glory of looking up at the Coliseum with the moon in the background. The little Italian restaurant where you had an abnormally small beer and the interesting owner! Or the simple conversation you had with two Australians at a diner, as you looked up to see two dogs staring down at you through an open window. Photographs show a lot, but they are still only an image seen by the eye in a moment. Your memory of how you felt during that moment, has to balance the experience.
2 thoughts on “Balanced Photography”
Chris…I love your narratives…they always give me such great material for “dwelling”.
You are so correct, I’m surprised I never thought about it….the amount of people that walk up to a building, landscape, painting…whatever, and just snap a photograph…without even looking and dwelling on the significance of the “whatever”……even I, I am sure have done that, I am also sure that those are the photographs I have the least appreciation for…because there is no memory of “dwelling”.
Thank you my friend. It’s something that I’ve even challenged myself with at times. There are so many amazing places out there to experience. Sometimes we just need to stop for a moment and grasp how they got there.