On Images, Reality, and Everything In Between

Yesterday I had a thought, and today I wrote it down: What's the point of taking photos when we travel? And beyond that....how do all of our individual realities effect and drive our need to capture these images? I'm sure there's been essays and many thesis' written on this subject, but I'll try my best to share my opinion in a few paragraphs. It's something I'll probably put in my book, so let me know what y'all think! :)

       I’ve heard from many people on the road that it’s a good idea to take pictures your first few days in a new place; new city, new country, or continent, whatever it may be. The point is to capture the images while they’re still new to your eye before things start to look normal and your opportunity for digitally documenting the exotic will have passed. By the end of the experience in a new place everything can be ordinary and you’ll forget what was so different or striking about the landscape when you first arrived. I usually don’t take pictures at first glance, even if it’s the Grand Canyon. I need a moment to soak it all in, to thank God, and let it be. Then I’ll snap my shot. If I’m hiking a mountain and will only be experience the landscape for a few hours, of course my camera is by my side. I want at least proof that I was there, and some images we just forget about if we don’t take that perfect photo to bring home with us. It’s also one of the only ways to remember faces of the people who were with us on the journey. I’m not perfect I can’t recall every single detail about my life or my life on the road, so I take pictures of them. Also I want something to share with people who want to know my stories, and maybe even something to hang on the wall of my home one day, so I can say “hey, I’ve been there,” instead of buying some generic pictures at the photo shop. I like to keep things as organic as possible.
        I recently read in the book Wanderlust, a story about the author, Canadian/American Elizabeth Eaves who traveled to many parts of the world. One of her stops was in Cairo, where she lived for a study abroad exchange for a few months. On a walk during her first week in the city, she passed through an alleyway filled with rubble signaling houses that once were. There was a glassless window pane she came across where in front of it was a row of hanging laundry, tied to a metal pole. She took a picture of this. She said that the image she saw that day on her walk would have passed her by after a while of living in Cairo, when the look of poverty became everyday life for her.
        What first struck me after reading this passage was that the image of rubble and hanging laundry became normal for her after only a few months in a poor(ish) city. It is normal. Being poor is more normal than being rich. But if you come from a first world country, namely Canada or the U.S, you are probably used to seeing everything clean, orderly, and large. You’re used to seeing more cars than motorbikes. You see people going out of their way to take a walk, a leisurely one, instead of walking because they have no other mode of transportation. While North America does have some poor areas, the image that Elizabeth Eaves encountered was a unique one, and it’s something that you just don’t see (and definitely not every day) if you’re visiting or living in the Western World.
        I am not criticizing the author for taking that photo. I admire her honesty and am envious of her awareness that the image she came across was purely a first look, rose coloured glasses kind of view. She did not glamourize anything about her first walk and her first images of poverty, she just took a photo and shared her idea behind it.
         For Ms.Eaves, her eyes settled to the soul of Cairo. This happens with many wanderers who let themselves truly experience a new place. Things remain beautiful, sometimes new and still inspiring, but it all becomes normal at some point. I believe that it’s only at this point, the breaking point between your individual normal and the city’s reality that you can truly begin to live and experience the new place. You can truly begin to appreciate it, learn from it, grow from it, and take photos of the good times and good people that you shared it with.
I really don’t know how to end this rant. Perhaps it should be longer. But what do you think? Why do you take photos when you’re on the road?

Labels: , , , , ,