You arrive at [insert famous tourist spot]. You look around, and you see dozens of people taking selfies and group photos, take a quick glance at [insert famous tourist spot], and leave.
It’s less about Seeing the Eiffel Tower than it is about showing everyone else that you’ve seen the Eiffel Tower. We get so wrapped up in taking pictures that we barely notice anything. We see but we don’t See. We don’t notice the details. The child pretending to hopscotch in the distance. The couple deep in conversation, very obviously in love. All of the people reading. How the four legs of the Eiffel Tower orient with the four points of the compass. The beautiful construction and architecture.
I’m a photographer, and I rarely go anywhere without a camera. But sometimes, while I travel, I don’t bring my camera on my walks as I find that it keeps me from noticing the things I See when I only have my eyes and other senses.
Often when we travel, the experience becomes taking the photo over Seeing. We busy ourselves with taking pictures over noticing the things around us. It becomes another form of work. Consider these words from Susan Sontag’s essay, “In Plato’s Cave,” the next time you travel:
“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs. The very activity of taking pictures is soothing, and assuages general feelings of disorientation that are likely to be exacerbated by travel. Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic—Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.”
. . .
“In Plato’s Cave” is an essay from Susan Sontag’s collection On Photography.
Consider pairing this article with “Hunting for Pictures” on noticing life’s details.