Hey, Me, Get Out Of My Travel Photos (Not!)

There are just about as many reasons for taking photos as there are people who take them, so it would be foolish for me to try to encompass them all in one itty-bitty blog post. But I do feel I need to respond to this blog post about travel photos by Natalia Forrest. Especially this part:

Much has been written about the modern scourge of tourists with their camera phones, roaming galleries more intent on taking photos of (or more precisely, having someone take their photo in front of) famous works of art than actually looking at the art itself. And call me a curmudgeon, but when I see this myself I give a little shiver of condemnation. It just doesn’t seem right when people are more interested in the artefact of their travels—the photograph, the trinket, the t-shirt—than they are in the actual experience.

I don’t have any data to debate claims that more people pose with art than actually look at art, but as a person who, as previously exposed, takes photos of my children with art at museums, I feel the need to defend those actions.

Forrest, and you, dear reader, may see these photos of people with objects of art — or any photos of art — as pure kitsch. And you’d be keeping company with many a scholared-sort too. But snapshots, trinkets, etc. are artefacts, facts of art, if you will, are precious mementos of the experience we had. And, if we are parents, of the experiences our children had.

Why isn’t baby’s first Monet, his first steps into art appreciation, as important as baby’s first steps walking — and so worth documenting?

And these photos are prompts for sharing the experiences in the future:

“What’s this you stand by in this photo, Bob? You have an odd expression on your face…”

“Oh, that was a majestic whatsit — did you know it was the only piece to survive the mawhozit’s war? Just being in the presence of such history would have been remarkable on its own, but there was something about it which reminded me of a thingamajig in the courtyard of this building we stayed at when I was a kid… Maybe it was the smell of sunshine… Whatever it is, it reminds me of Whosits, my favorite artist because of her use of color…”

Why should a person resist the human desire to keep a piece of something, so that they can recall, recount, and recapture something magical or important? Because other people think it’s kitschy or a scourge to condemn? We’ve keeping personal souvenirs as long as we’ve been people, including burying our dead with trinkets and pictorial images of stuff… I’m certain more than a few people have been buried with photographs.

But perhaps most offensive to me is Forrest’s post was this:

we took [photographs] because either a) we thought it would make a nice picture or b) to remember something by. The photos were for us, not to prove something to others.

Our photos are not necessarily to prove something to others — whether we are in them or not. Excuse us if we, every now and then, believe we are part of the something which would make a nice picture. Excuse us if we want to remember our experience with ourselves participating in it. After all, we travel because just looking at someone else’s photos and/or postcards is not enough.

Perhaps it’s most accurate to say that our photos of ourselves with art, scenic views, etc. are taken to prove — or reaffirm — something to ourselves.

You don’t have to look at them if you don’t want to.

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