Are we more, or less, present in the moment because of our photography?
If my wife is to be trusted (she is a doctor specialized in congnitive disorders, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt 😉 ), my memory isn’t … top tier, to put it elegantly. I do forget a lot, and probably have too many distractions (work being the worst) for careful attention and memorisation of what I consider mundane stuff.
When we travel, she also tells me I should be more present and connected with my surroundings, instead of seeing the world through a lens.
Is that so true, though?
Consider the first photo, above. I distinctly remember stopping a few meters after cycling past this with my family, backtracking, hesitating to drop the backpack, grab the camera, then considering the final print and deciding to go for it.
It doesn’t make me remember the location better, though. I’ve no idea how to go back to that house on Jersey. My wife would find it with her eyes closed … if she remembered the house at all. It was striking to me, as a photographer. In another light, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it either.
Same thing with the Shibuya river, above. It was my first camera photograph (i.e. non smartphone) in Japan, after we exited the Sibuya train station on the wrong side for our hotel and this sight appeared in front of me, giving me my first gaijin culture shock. It has my signature wonky horizon, which I never corrected, because this is what it felt like at the moment. New and disorientating.
Betteridge’s law of headlines dictates that the answer to my title is: NO, photographers do not remember their travels better than other tourists. And that probably corresponds to popular belief as well.
And yet, I know where those coloured pipes are, and who was with me when this shot was made.
And that the scene below, visited last summer with my son, his wife and infant child, instantly reminded me of Massimo Vitali. I believe my lens was a 30mm and that I removed the usual underexposure dialed in the camera to protect highlights. This was to be a bright image. We then had ice cream at a famous Italian shop, but the name of the shop eludes me 😉
There is no definitive answer in this post. The titular question was an honest one, and your personal experience is what I’m after, here. Do you feel you remember your trips better, as a photographer, compared to your non-photographer travel companions?
My naïve perspective is that we remember what we are attentive to.
It probably reflects very poorly on me that I forgot my kids in front of the school too many times to remember when they were young, ahem, but can tell you what settings were used on a photograph made months ago 😆 😆 But my work is arid and technical and creativity is what keeps me vaguely sane. So photography matters to me, and tends to occupy a lot of mental space when relaxing. Worry not: my kids are pretending to have forgotten me, and will get their own back soon enough.
But, to steer this back to the original question about travels, the reality is that I photograph moments. There is no theme to my photography, to my great dispair. Stuff turns up, in front of me, and some triggers the desire to trigger the shutter. I remember those moments.
And my guess is that if you photograph great light, you’ll remember all the times great light illuminated you. Or, if you photograph cemeteries with fisheyes, you’ll remember the idea, the gear, the location, …
We remember what we pay attention to, don’t we?
So, does this make us remember travels better than others, or in more patchy, detail oriented manner? I have no idea, and would like to hear your experience on this subject. My impression is that those photographic moments are like dots in my memory that connect, and help me remember, the rest of the big picture. Maybe not in all its details, but the important feelings, the sort of thing you want to keep with you for a long time. Others will remember more of the details for which there is no room in my mind due to photographic details taking their place, I guess.
What does seem important to me, though, is that photography can make us mindful. To me, this is at least as important as good recollection. Mindfulness is the detox to many of our modern world’s woes. So, unless we photograph like maniacs, snapping away and hoping the camera will catch something worth keeping, the very act of recognizing something has drawn our attention, leading to a deliberate effort to capture that event/scene/moment/impression/theme …, is good enough for me.
But not everyone agrees. So how about you? What draws you to travel photography? What impact does it have on your memories?
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