August 15, 2010

Through the lens

Photographer in the mist

In the most famous areas of the park, we saw photographers, often with tripods and camera bags full of lenses. I could see how the incredible landscape, with its churning geysers, meadows filled with bison, and rock cliffs with waterfalls would attract them.

Far more common, though, were tourists who kept taking photos not of the landscape but of themselves, a curious custom that I’ve never quite figured out. Because I’m the kind of person who stops and talks to anyone who passes me, strangers kept handing me their cameras and asking me to take photos as they smiled into the camera. I kept wanting to say, “Um, this is going to be a crappy photo. It’s noon, with harsh sunlight, there are shadows in your faces, and no one is going to even see the landscape by the time all five of you get into the shot.”

Mostly, I didn’t say anything. I would take the camera and obediently snap the shot. But I still haven’t figured out the reason why people on vacation hold up a camera (or a phone) and take a photo of themselves. I mean, the shots don't usually come out very well. And I can’t think that there is any danger that they are going to forget about the time they saw a geyser shoot water 150 feet into the air. Maybe the experience of the fantastic landscape is so incredible that it's the equivalent of pinching themselves to see if it's real. Or maybe it’s just some need for proof, to show the rest of the world, “See? I was here.”


Cindy said...

LOL. I always take photos of myself when I go on vacation. Or more, I take photos of the kids because I know that the next time we go back, they will be older.

jo(e) said...

Cindy: That's a good point. I guess I used to take lots of photos of my kids when they were young and we were on vacation. It's fun to look back now and see how young they looked. But on this trip, we didn't see very many young kids. It was mostly young adults, taking photos of themselves with their cameras. Maybe they were sending the photos to friends to say, "Here is where I am RIGHT THIS MINUTE." I can see how that would be kind of cool.

Sarah said...

I have the opposite opinion. What's the point of taking photographs of famous landscapes, buildings, etc. when professional photographers have already done a better job at it, and you can get their postcards instead? But pictures of my friends and family I love; we all change every year and the backgrounds remind us of where we've been.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jo(e),

I haven't been to your blog in a long while, this is Joy... maybe you don't remember but I use to post at Ms. Flamingo (my broken leg/ ankle surgery blog! HA All healed now)

You might remember my celebrating my nephew's birthday and how he has the same name as With-a-y. :) My nephew is not two!! Time flies...

I recently took some pictures of myself and a friend (and her daughter) by holding the camera out. They are not good pictures but they captured us in the moment- in the moment of my friend moving home to Taiwan!

Oh, and btw, I moved 800 miles to go to Grad school! (My friend graduated and that is why she left!)


Sandy said...

I think the it's because with digital photos, you can take all kinds of crappy photos -- and then just delete the ones that don't come out. I know I take "fun" photos of myself when I'm someplace because it's free. In the days of film, I wouldn't have wasted the shot.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I'm with Sarah. I like vacation pictures of people because I like commemorating the social element - creating a record of the relationships in that time and place. Because for me, going on vacation is almost always just as much about the experience of going with a particular person(s) as much as seeing a particular place. Pictures of me and my friends visiting the Coliseum in Rome in college are completely different from pictures taken at the Coliseum with professional colleagues as a professor, even if the backdrop is the same.

And also, to be able to say, "Look! I was here!" I think that's kind of fun. Although most of the pictures aren't of me, but are of my travel companions - it's more like, "Look! I have friends who went here with me!"

Of course, I am also a crappy photographer, so my scenery shots are not very good or interesting. I take both kinds, but I think uninteresting people pictures are better for reminiscing later than uninteresting landscape/scenery pictures.

Anonymous said...

Shoot! I could not remember how to spell With-a-Why's name and got it wrong.

Also, I said above my nephew is not two- should have read now two!

Is there a two typo limit? ;-) Then, I just made it! HA

Rana said...

I think that you're conflating two photographic impulses - to create a lasting image, and to capture a moment. It's the difference between a fine art photograph and a snapshot, among other things.

When I take pictures of a landscape, or a sight, or even candids, I'm not thinking about myself or the experience, but the subject of the photo and the photograph itself. When I take pictures of myself and my friends (or ask others to do it) I'm thinking less about the setting and more about capturing a memory.

But some of that is because I don't fully trust my own memory. Your experience is clearly different.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

The pictures are not for the people in them. The pictures are for your absent friends, who can either envy you or laugh at you, or both.

The other day I was standing on top of a mountain, just me and my dad, and I took his picture but he felt so stupid smiling at a camera when there wasn't another person for miles that the landscape looked great but my dad looked ridiculous; but then he emailed the picture to 6 of his 12 brothers and sisters anyway, and they all replied with comments along the lines of, You sure look tired after that hike old man and Why were you carrying your infant grandson under your shirt? Nobody said anything about the landscape.

jo(e) said...

I totally understand the impulse to take photos of family and friends -- I have thousands of those kinds of vacation pictures, although I don't put them on the blog.

I was more curious about the individual who is by herself and who walks up to a geyser and holds the camera out to take a photo of herself. But perhaps it's so she can post it on facebook or twitter?

Jennifer, I like your theory : "The pictures are for your absent friends, who can either envy you or laugh at you, or both." My kids are always seem to prefer totally ridiculous photos of themselves, which lead to all kinds of jokes.

susan said...

I like those photos of myself at various places b/c it often brings memories back that I wouldn't access otherwise. Two weeks ago, when Curious Girl and I were vacationing, I suggested that we ask someone else to take a picture of us at a particular monument. "We don't need to do that. I can, Mama!" she said, and then just held the digital camera out and took a photo of the two of us. Her arm is so short that you can't even see our full faces in the frame, but I'm laughing, and even 2 weeks later it's a fun photo for me to look at again. Of course, in 40 years will I remember the story that goes with it?

dance said...

Agreed with Rana (and others)--it's about capturing the memory. Also, after I started making photo books, I found that I really wanted to have photos of myself in them.

Some people get really good at taking decent self-portraits with a long arm that even show some background. It takes practice, but is doable (not by me, yet). My sister framed a very cute series of her-and-husband self-portraits in various places, so it can become a tradition. I'd rather just ask someone because I don't have the knack, but it's true I don't ask strangers as often as I should, considering I road trip by myself a lot.

Although I like to build up my karma by offering to click the camera for other people/groups. And I bet those noon photos you took were perfectly fine for showing off or putting in albums (though I'm happier when I remember to force the flash). Again, with the photo books, it turns out the pix don't have to be great for the book to be a treasure.

(Now what I don't understand---1) dude with family, towing a camper, using a 6 year-old 1-inch screen digital point and shoot that didn't work. Dude, drop a day's worth of gas on a new camera. 2) Young group whose batteries died on the hike to the waterfall. Carry spares, people.)

jodi said...

My husband likes the photos with family in them and I'm more accommodating now as I realize that there are not that many photos of me in our albums.

Ianqui said...

Even I like a couple of shots of people, considering that my approach to photography is similar to yours :) Sometimes I take pictures of Super G because I feel like a person in the picture is playful, or because it points out the scale of something, or gives perspective on the incline of the ascent. I also like pictures of us together because it's a reminder that this awesome beauty is something we experienced together.

And yes, now, facebook adds a whole new dimension to wanting people pictures.

Rokeya said...

I take self-shots with my phone and/or camera and text or email them to my mom. I do it when I'm visiting somewhere cool but even just in my everyday life. She lives far away and it's a way of letting her know I'm thinking about her and that she's very much with me, even though she's not *with* me.

YourFireAnt said...

Gorgeous shots, Jo(e). Bring the camera tomorrow for some other falls shots .


YourFireAnt said...

Gorgeous shots, Jo(e). Bring the camera tomorrow for some other falls shots .


Zhoen said...

Oh, especially if I were somewhere like Yellowstone alone, I'd want photos of myself there. To feel less alone, to have virtual company along. To be silly for friends, for scale, to show how tired/happy/tough I looked at that time, in that place. Particularly if I didn't have another person there to see my expression, joke with, see it all with me.