I came across an article today by The Age travel writer, Ben Groundwater. The article touched on the new phenomenon brought about by the rise of digital photography; that people are no longer enjoying holidays in quite the same way because they spend the whole time looking through a camera and scrolling through pictures to find the best shot. He writes:
“…I’ve caught myself plenty of times not looking at a monument or landscape as a thing of beauty, but as something that needs to be framed properly in the ideal light. I’m weighing up the best angle to snap it from instead of just looking at it, taking it in, appreciating it.”
Having visited Europe for the first time over Christmas/New Year’s 2012-13, I was struck by this exact issue a number of times. I’ve already written of this trip to France and Italy and the particular importance it held for me because it offered the chance to see the small region of Sicily where my family is from and spend some rare quality time with my grandfather.
I love photography and like to think I have a good eye for it, and I really enjoy having a decent, tangible memory of experiences that I can enjoy for years to come. But I had to question while I was there – are these snapshots worth missing a potential real-life souvenir? I have always been conscious of not ‘living life through a lens’ and I didn’t want my compulsive need to capture these moments ruin my chances to actually just enjoy them.
There were certainly those around who were doing just that. The amount of tourists who will blankly walk into you as they wander aimlessly down the street with their heads down, peering over the display screen on their digital camera or smartphone, is ridiculous. People who will elbow you out of the way to take a photo at the Trevi Fountain. The hundreds of cameras out and flashing in the Sistine Chapel, despite the continually-looped, multi-lingual announcements that photography is not allowed. I was so annoyed by these people who seemed incapable of just appreciating where they were and taking that in, that I was determined not to be one of them.
I think in a way though, having what I like to think of as an artist’s eye helped me to appreciate the beauty in what I was seeing. From the grandeur of Notre Dame or the Vatican to the complexity and minute detail of the lace work for sale in a small Sicilian market, I examined everything I came across from multiple angles, taking in as much of it as I could before choosing the best position from which to snap a photo. I spent ages exploring the way sunlight refracted through a stained glass window in a Sicilian chapel; creating a speckled, colourful painting of light on the wall inside. Examining the contrast of beautiful, sunny sea views in Taormina in the shadow of snow-topped Mount Etna. Watching how the colours of the sky changed as the sun set over our apartment in Rome.
But at the same time, there were some experiences I deliberately did not photograph. Shedding a tear while lighting a candle in memory of my Nonno (my great-grandfather) in a small chapel in his hometown in Sicily, on the night after Christmas. Being offered coffee and biscuits in every small apartment we were ushered into whilst ‘going visiting’. Laughing hysterically with my sister and father as vertigo hit me at the top of the Eiffel Tower and I had to prop myself against a pole in order to take a photo. Playing Tombola until 1am with my Sicilian relatives on Christmas Eve and watching the most elderly in the group become the life of the party. Running desperately from Sacré Coeur down the steps to the street in the torrential rain, instantly destroying the umbrellas we had bought not minutes before, and seeking refuge in cups of coffee and crêpes. Sitting by a window in the Louvre with my mother and taking in the enormous expanses of the gardens outside.
In some respects, having the opportunity to capture what I saw was exactly what I needed to enjoy it. Because it made me notice the things that can not be captured by any camera. And those are the snapshots that, in the long run, mean the most.