Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?
— Billy Collins, “Consolation”
When I travel to heavily-touristed places, I always wish I could go back to a time before the invention of cameras. Before cameras, people had to write about their travels, or draw them. Which was wonderful, because people saw sketches of rhinos and thought they were dragons, or read Gulliver’s Travels and thought it was real.
No more inaccurate sketches and ludicrous retellings–it’s all megapixels and memory cards and poses. This means you can’t just stroll around a place and appreciate it–you have to be aware of the trajectory of peoples’ lenses as they make cliche postures against picturesque backgrounds, already dreaming of their new Facebook profile picture. And you can’t go somewhere without an accompanying peer pressure, the feeling that you really should be taking photos too, and not just social pressure from the other tourists but expectations from family and friends (“take photos!” they chorus, not like they will ever look at them or that the photos will be meaningful compared to the essential feeling, the terroir of “being there”).
And frankly, who wants to feel like a fool, lining up behind a hundred other people and snapping shots of the exact same thing, especially things that are so grandiose that they can’t fit into a camera? Cathedrals and mountains and seas weren’t designed to squeeze into a viewfinder. Life wasn’t designed to fit behind a lens.
Cameras: bah humbug.
And yet, for all my complaining and self-righteousness about cameras and touristy snapshots, I usually return from travel and wish I had more photos.
At least whenever I feel ambivalent I can remember that at least Billy Collins, former US poet laureate, agrees with my sentiments.