Traveling, not Tourism
“Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing—which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.”
– Susan Sontag
After both the first wave and the second wave of the pandemic, a large number of people started traveling ‘again’ out of their habitual (read: solitary) environments. Naturally, they wanted to preserve everything they see in pixels. As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure. It seems positively unnatural to travel for pleasure without taking a camera along, doesn’t it? Photographs offer indisputable evidence that the trip was made and that fun was had.
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. 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.
That’s not why photography was inducted as an art. It isn’t meant to be soulless, mechanical recycling of reality.
A photograph is not just the result of an encounter between an event and a photographer; picture-taking is an event in itself, and one with ever more peremptory rights – to interfere with, to invade, or to ignore whatever is going on. While the tourists are busy violating the art by snapping that shutter shut on every new thing their eyeballs spot, the photographer stays behind his or her camera, observing, creating a tiny element of another world: the image-world that bids to outlast us all. It is a privileged moment, turned into a slim object that one can keep and look at again.
Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical to taking a photograph of it, and participating in a public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form.
A lot of us mistake the essence of traveling to cover a ton of places and compress the experience in a catalog of photographs. You don’t have to necessarily go miles and miles to ‘travel’. Photographs are a neat slice of time and with the right eye, we can travel right from our bedrooms. Just like these, I did through these frames from my living room.
Any photograph has multiple meanings; indeed, to see something in the form of a photograph is to encounter a potential object of fascination. We should try to strive for more of this with the photographs we make. Photographs that take the viewer on a journey – that give the viewer the feeling of ‘traveling’.
This year that’s how I have traveled – not only climbed dove-white sky-spearing mountains to capture nature at its finest but also tried discovering beauty in what everybody sees but neglects as too ordinary. I saw the world as it is, including its already acclaimed marvels, and also created interest, by new visual decisions. How successful I was on this conquest, my older self will only tell but as it stands now, I feel I have reveled in the purest pleasure of the form we all love – photography.
How did you travel this year?