Blocking the View

Bringing Travel Photography into Focus

As usual, I over-packed.  But then, most tourists do.  For me, the process usually goes something like this: I count out how many days I’ll be gone, add an extra week for good measure, and then multiply that by at least three changes of clothes per day.  This gives me the total number of outfits I have to cram into my suitcase.  To some the amount may seem a bit excessive, but I disagree.  After all, one never knows when one may be invited to dine with a Prime Minister or join up with an impromptu Himalayan expedition, or fill in for an injured Radio City Rockette, or demonstrate Tupperware products in American Samoa.  I just want to be prepared, that’s all.

The reason I bring all this up is because, as it happens, I just returned from an extended trip where once again I definitely over-packed; only this time it wasn’t the surplus clothing that got in my way.  It was my camera.

Here’s what I mean:  Just last week my husband and I found ourselves smack in the middle of the Middle East – Israel, to be precise.  What an incredible experience!  Led by a phenomenal inspirational Bible scholar; and a passionate Israeli resident as our tour guide, I learned so much about the Holy Lands that in just ten short days my brain swelled to three times its normal size.

And speaking of swelling to three times its normal size, you should have seen the crowds! I’m told this wasn’t even peak season; nevertheless, no matter where we went, throngs of tourists had gotten there ahead of us.  (After watching our driver maneuver that enormous tour bus through narrow streets originally designed for donkey carts, I can attest that Jerusalem is still a city of miracles!)  "Pilgrims” just like us had come to this special place from all over the world, but despite the differences in our languages and nationalities, we all had one thing in common.  Every last one of us was viewing the sites of Israel through the lens of a camera.

I, for one, came home with more than 200 photos, which I can’t wait to share with the first person dumb enough to remark, "I’d love to see your photos.”  But there is a downside to all this picture-taking.  For example, when we went to the hillside where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, I was so busy trying to get the best angle and the proper lighting as the sun set over the Sea of Galilee, I almost forgot to grasp how cool it was to be there in person.  Two days later, as I pointed my camera toward a spectacular view of Bethlehem, I got that dreaded message on my LCD screen "You are out of memory.”  Immediately I panicked and thought "Oh no!  How will I ever remember Israel now?”  And that’s when it hit me: I’ve been relying on this cold impersonal device to store all my impressions of this wonderful place, when what I should be doing is preserving those images with my own eyes and heart!

For two thousand years, generations of travelers have been coming to these holy sites, and up until about five decades ago, not one of them ever brought along a camera.  True, it meant that they didn’t have anything to show Aunt Nell when they got back home; but one thing is for certain.  You can bet that when they stood on those ancient steps in Jerusalem – the very same steps on which Jesus Himself approached the Temple – their very first thought was not, "I wish that lady would move over; she’s blocking my shot”.  No, instead they focused on the significance of the moment, and burnished that beautiful picture deep in their minds. 

We, on the other hand, have to upload files onto our computers in order to see what it was that we were standing there taking pictures of!  There’s a famous quote by T.S. Eliot, "We had the experience but missed the meaning.”  Today that quote would probably read, "We took the picture, but missed the experience.”

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we quit taking photographs altogether (as a grandmother, such an idea is downright absurd!)   All I’m saying is that the next time you visit a remarkable place, like the Grand Canyon, or Gettysburg, or Times Square, or Pearl Harbor, or the Great Wall of China – or even the site where those Cadillacs are sticking out of the ground near Amarillo, Texas – and you really want to preserve the memory of what you’re seeing…

Don’t take a picture.  It lasts longer.

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