I was on my second day exploring the temples at Angkor, and grateful to have purchased the seven-day ticket. There was much to see, I wondered if a week would be enough. One is never alone at such a place, but I was surprised when I came around a corner and almost walked into a group of travelers. For a moment, I couldn’t understand why they were just standing there when there was so much to explore. Then I realized what was happening. They were waiting in line to take a photo.
I like to travel light. The way I figure it, a person’s likelihood of being robbed is inversely proportional to the value of the items they carry. Not taking a camera fits right in with this philosophy. The benefits go beyond carrying one less thing. No worries about the etiquette of taking pictures of people from other cultures. No frustration over dead batteries. No hauling around charger, cords, extra chips.
I get flak for this from both friends and strangers. People tell me that they want to see where I’ve been. I tell them to go online and they will find a picture taken by a much better photographer than I. Yes, they say, but then we won’t be seeing it through your eyes. You wouldn’t anyway. One woman even told me that it was a waste to travel if I wasn’t taking pictures.
From my point of view, it was her trip that was wasted. We were in Tam Coc in northern Viet Nam, floating down a river that meanders through vivid green fields speckled with limestone monoliths. It’s known as the “Halong Bay of the Rice Paddies.” I drank in the scene while she posed and clicked. I’d rather not see the world through a view-finder, rather not reduce these scenes to flashes on a screen or 5” X 7” images with edges. I think we’ve gone overboard with our need to document things.
Even if I felt it was worth sacrificing my attention to the moment in order to capture it, the truth is that most photos don’t capture things that well. I remember a friend showing me her photos of Egypt. She had an artsy eye and they were lovely pictures. But I had recently visited Egypt too and as I looked at them I thought, “Where is the dust? The heat? The cries for baksheesh? ”
Posing is especially noxious. My first and, so far, only trip to the Grand Canyon was with a group of 14 people, a university class studying the native cultures of the American Southwest. Some in the group had been there before. Others were newbies like me. When it was time to leave, everyone stalled, not wanting to part from the grandeur. However, late as we were, we stopped for one last group photo and so my final moments at the Grand Canyon were spent with my back to it. Urg!
I also get told that I need a photo to “prove that I was there.” Why? I know where I’ve been and I don’t need to prove it to anyone. I have friends who are caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s. Periodically, she will say that she would like to visit a certain place someday. “You’ve been there, Hazel,” her children tell her. “Look. Here’s a photo of you there.” She looks at the photo and replies, “That’s not me. If I’d been there I would remember.”
So my travels will continue to be documented only in the organic memory device perched above my neck. It’s easy to carry, non-invasive and doesn’t require batteries. Besides, I like its ability to surprise me with memories when I’m not expecting them.Published in