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.
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.
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.
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…