Photography – Risk and Reward

Photography – it’s not an activity without risks.  When traveling I’m often saddened by the streams of people taking mediocre pictures of great artworks or fantastic panoramas.  That sounds wrong. It’s not the mediocre pictures that bother me; it’s that so many people spend their energy and time looking at a tiny little screen and barely pause to take in the full wonder of where they are.

Sometimes it’s better to just enjoy the sunset…

Here’s a slightly more academic perspective on the problem.  Post-modern critics, like Walter Benjamin in his seminal but slightly bewildering treatise “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, address some of the problem with mass produced art, to which photography belongs.  When we capture a photo of something, say Niagara Falls, there’s a risk that that this tiny little photo, after taking it, saving it, showing it to friends and viewing it hundreds of times, this odorless  flat, silent image will replace the experience in our mind.  The real Niagara Falls will have been lost and only the photo will remain.

This in not Niagara Falls. This is a photo of Niagara Falls.

Not a bad photo, but what about the smell, the music, the back of her head?

Even before I learned about post-modern theory, something about clicking frantically on a disposable camera seemed silly to me.  Aren’t there hundreds of fantastic, professional photos of Michelangelo’s Pieta available in the gift shop?   Shouldn’t I try to enjoy it in 3-D and leave the photos to the professionals?  Thoughts like this are the reason I have so few photos of my travels prior to it becoming my occupation.

I still hate taking or posing for pictures when I’m out to dinner or a bar, but I have discovered at least one advantage to being a photographer: I see more.  Not on a grand scale perhaps, but I now notice details that I would have passed unnoticed.  Places without loud, flashy entertainment can hold me captive with little details that amuse and capture me.  The peeling paint of a wall, an unusual mailbox, a forgotten cup, these become potential works of art and, aside from landscapes, are my favorite source of material.

Just a bit of door, passed by a hundred times, unnoticed every day.

I love photography and I love being a photographer.  Even so there are times when it’s better to leave the camera home, sit back and enjoy the moment.  Soak up the sun, the feel of the breeze, the sound of the waves and the warm sand between your toes.  Now that I mention it, just such a moment begins to float up through my memory.  Time to enjoy it…

Categories: General, Photography, Travel, Words | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Photography – Risk and Reward

  1. I get your sentiment exactly. Sometimes I’ll just put my camera down and think to myself – enjoy this.

  2. I agree there have been times for example when I’m trying to take photos of fireworks and I should just be enjoying them! Other times I wish I had my camera with me! I believe there is a “time and purpose for everything”, like right now it’s time to get off the computer, relax and watch a movie! Lol 🙂

  3. Very well said!

  4. Anonymous

    I was there for the Niagara photo. Minus 20 Celsius.

  5. I know what you mean. I love to take photos on my trips or at other events, but it’s because I want something that will remind me of the experience when I look at it. I don’t worry about getting the perfect photo and don’t do any post-production to my photos, except maybe cropping and getting rid of red eye. I don’t want to spend my time looki at the screen or through the viewfinder to capture it perfectly. I want to get the shot and go back to enjoying the moment or experience. When I look at my photos from the Delhi spice market, I remember the crowds and the smells. I remember ducking to avoid being hit by a large burlap sack being carried past me on someone’s head. I remember choking on the spices as they escaped the bags while they were tossed down onto Ox carts. I remember the taxi driver who thought he had lost us in the market and his look of relief when we found him. The photos are far from perfect, but the memory is perfectly preserved.

  6. Pingback: Details of Burano « An out of the way place…

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