Thursday, December 03, 2015

Some Notes on Tourist Photography

I recently returned from a world tour, having traveled to Turkey, Greece, Italy, India and Japan.

Especially in Italy (in the museums) and in Japan (at the temples and shrines), I couldn't help but notice the hordes of tourists with their cameras trying to capture everything.  I recognize I was a tourist too, but I did notice a curious fact: most tourists seemed more interested in capturing a picture of where they were than in experiencing the place and the feelings it evoked.

Say, we are at the Golden Temple in Kyoto (the Kinkau-ji).  It is a breathtaking and ethereal place, with the reflection of the temple in the small lake creating a dreamlike atmosphere.  One could keep watching the scene for hours.  But many a tourist would click a picture, and then immediately stop looking at what had been captured.  It was as if they were saying to themselves: Now that I have it in my camera, I can move on and capture something else.

It baffled me.  What's the point of clicking pictures instead of experiencing the place?  Are there not enough pictures available on the internet of that place already for one to enjoy and show others?  Why is it important to capture the picture in one's own camera?

I can still understand the narcissistic urge to capture a selfie or to ask someone to take a pic of oneself with the scene as the background (to show others that "I was there"), but to simply take a picture of a place seemed very irrational to me.

I felt it was very disrespectful to take a picture of something and then lose interest in the subject.  Is it better to enjoy something through one's camera than through one's own eyes?

In one of the outstanding museums in Rome (the Villa Borghese Gallery), I was happy to note that photography was prohibited, but I was quickly dismayed to learn later that only flash photography was disallowed. 

(As an aside, the Villa Borghese Gallery, apart from the marvelous scultptures by Bernini, was showcasing a great collection of fashion art by Azzedine Alaïa.)

I don't think it is realisitc to expect that in our lifetime, major tourist destinations will disallow photography.  In fact, as tourism is a major source of revenue for governments and private sector, any tourist-unfriendly rule will likely not see the light of day.  I am an aberration in the mass of tourists and I have no hope that my preferences will ever become normative.

If someone is a photographer and it is a unique scenery, by all means take a photo and showcase the scenery to the rest of the world.  But otherwise, why not just select one of the thousands of photos of that scene already available on the internet?

It is also more of a problem now that taking pictures is free of cost.  In earlier days, the cost of film and of developing the film gave some pause to photographers to be more discriminating in their activity.  Now, with digital photography that is supremely affordable, it is open season!


Unknown said...

Couldn't agree more with the pointless pic taking followed by a disengagement from the scene. But often, I find myself not trying to recreate the perfect flawless pics already on the internet, but capturing that moment /time when I stood for hours in the heat to save that image in the mind forever .

Anonymous said...

Com'on Herman . Not everyone have travel passion as you have - they are simple tourist how love to see their clicks and believe that they too are good photographer . Atleast dont that lil happiness from them.sometime , this kind of rule book from you feel like those do's and don't from your class teacher when you go for school outing trips. :)