Less Pictures, Please

Less Pictures, Please

“Nup, you fucked it! Bend your knees more. Move your right hand down a bit. Stop… yep, that’s it.”

You’ve had this conversation once before (and by once, I mean 99 times, because that’s how many attempts it takes to get two subjects to align). Back when you pushed the Leaning Tower of Pisa back into place. And when you ran away from a giant toy dinosaur across Uyuni Salt Flat. And that time you tongued the Statue of David’s ballsack.

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You may completely lack perspective in all other areas of your life (reality, your relationship with your ex, etc.) but when it comes to forced-perspective photography, you nail it. You’re good at jumping photos too. And panoramas. And subject photography – especially street kids.

You are not alone in your guiltiness of photography overindulgence. On a recent stint overseas, my friends and I took more than 2000 photos between us, and we weren’t even gone two months. That’s about 250 photos a week; 36 photos a day.

But if a picture speaks a thousand words, just how many words do a thousand pictures speak?
Whatever the answer may be, I think it’s fairly deafening.

Once, somewhere in Thailand, I met one of those jaded world-travellers who go backpacking in Asia for 11 years straight and listen to psy-trance sober.

“I never travel with a camera, man” he said. “Ever. Look at the world through a camera, and you’ll see things how you want to portray them. Look at the world with your eyes, and you’ll see things as they are.”

Admittedly this conversation took place several years ago, so I had to make most of that quote up, but the lizard-skinned nomad definitely rambled something along those lines.

What stuck with me from that exchange, apart from the realisation that some people wear canvas thongs without irony, was the point he was making. In running around snapping thousands of pictures of every landmark, landscape and sunset we encounter on the road, are we really seeing them?

Along with the rest of the tourist population in Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, I rose before first light and headed to the temples to watch the sun rise. I had forgotten a torch, but it was okay – the path to the temple was awash with the light of 2000 iPhones trying to nab a picture-perfect moment. It was like a Coldplay concert, with everyone waving their phones in tribute at the sun (which, by the way, didn’t even come out); and just like Coldplay, it was awful and invasive.

Visit any major tourist attraction today and you’ll have the same problem, from the Mona Lisa to Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s even worse post-invention of the selfie stick, which – thanks to thoughtful relatives last Christmas – people are now just as likely to own as they do a paddleboard. This means some tourists are now walking around in an even more ignorant vortex than before, gazing at the world through a lens and wasting so much time trying to show everyone at home how exquisite the world is that they forgot to marvel at its beauty themselves.

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I’m not saying we need to toss aside our cameras and reflect on our journeys through meditation and interpretive dance. I’m not saying photography is bad. It’s up there with delivery takeaway as one of the most amazing achievements of the human race, enabling everyone to marvel at the world’s splendour without having to leave the comfort of their own homes.

But we definitely need to find a balance. At least one photo of yourself pashing the sphinx is justifiable, but 1000 photos a day is not necessary. 1000 photos of the same thing is even less necessary. Try taking a disposable camera with you when you travel, or buy a memory card so small that you’re limited to taking shots only when their worth can be justified. If not, I fear our eyes may soon wither away like those blind worms that live in really dark caves, only to be replaced with wide angle lenses on selfie sticks.

Cover by Chris Breebaart, second inset by Lemuel Chanyungco

Gemma Clarke is the editor-in-chief of Global Hobo. She spends her time contracting tinea in foreign countries, taking afternoon naps and drinking red wine through a straw.