One of my friends is currently studying abroad in Japan. Of course, this has been making me extremely jealous. During his travels he has been inconsistently keeping a blog. Though it consists of mostly pictures and brief historical lessons, I have still enjoyed looking on with envy. What I find interesting is that most of the photos are of streets and scenery. It is not that I find each photo that interesting, on the contrary most of them are quite boring. What interests me is that they remind me of my photos from my trip to Southeast Asia. In fact, when I came home and showed my parents the complete 1300 photo journey through my trip, I realized that most of them would be incredibly boring to look at for anyone other than me.
Tangent: The less important part of this has to do with the inadequacy with which a photo shows a scene. I had an eccentric English teacher in high school who once talked about this. Here is my best attempt at recreating his speech: “People say a photo contains a thousand words, and they do, they can show something that would take forever to describe. But, they will not, can not, possibly hope to capture the entire feeling of being wherever the photo was taken. Particularly with scenery. You could try; purchase the $10,000 camera, study it for years to learn exactly what each element and setting of the camera does, go on your trip, take hours setting up your camera in precisely the right spot, wait for days until the sun and the clouds are set up just so. Come home and personally develop your film under the perfect conditions, to create a full wall sized image you would mount. Then buy another $10,000 lighting set up to give just the right effect. Your friend would come over to your house after you’ve taken a trip to somewhere exotic and ask ‘Brian, how was your trip, you must have seen some incredible scenery!’ to which you would nonchalantly reply, ‘well, I suppose if you’re curious, I did see one thing that was quite nice.’ Then bring him to the room where the photo covered the wall and dramatically reveal it taking his breath away.” As you can tell, I was quite fond of this teacher.
The important reason that people end up with boring photos is that the motivation to take a photo is not purely based on what they are seeing at that moment. For example, please feast your eyes on this photo from my trip:
Unless you are an avid rooster fanatic, I don’t imagine you would want to spend more than a couple second looking at it. If you were seeing this photo in the context of ‘Brian is going to show us his awesome adventures in Southeast Asia then it might be even more anticlimactic. But for me, I will always be fond of this photo. That is because what it reminds me of is not this particular rooster, but the difference in the treatment and housing of farm animals between my culture and the culture I was immersed in. Over there it was typical for houses to have farm animals, though mostly chickens and roosters, roaming around their property freely. Some, which I believed to be the ones they planned on eating next, were kept under woven baskets so that they would not need to be tracked down at dinner time.
Growing up in Washington D.C. I have been exposed to many, many tourists. In fact, if you’ve ever been there, particularly with a school group all wearing matching t-shirts, you are the butt of occasional tourist jokes. Almost all tourists have cameras with them, many constantly glued around their necks. These tourists you will see constantly shooting photos of absolutely everything; the side walk, the street signs, the supermarket aisles, the water glasses, the curb, the traffic lights, EVERYTHING. Even though it can be humorous to watch, at the end of the day, the only people who can’t understand why tourists are taking pictures of absolutely everything, are those who have never been to a place where absolutely everything is different.