We took a lot of photos while in Australia. A lot. I must have shot about 400 frames throughout the trip, most of them of my kids having fun. But a few of them were of fairly tourist-y spots: the train station in Melbourne, the Syndey Harbor Bridge and Opera House, nice landscapes at various surfing spots. And I found myself wondering aloud at some points just why it was I was taking these pictures. I mean surely, there are better ones that I could find on Flickr. Why shouldn’t I just use those to capture my memories?
Case in point, this picture here that I took of Bell’s Beach, one of the top surfing spots on the South Australia Coast. Beautiful place. Kinda ok picture. Look on Flickr and what do you find? Over 1,100 photos tagged with “bells_beach” and probably twice that many in the database that aren’t as easy to find. And even on the first page of results are a couple that I find much more appealing than my own. Now even though “all rights are reserved” on these, I can still find almost 100 that have a Creative Commons license, and many are the exact same angle, exact same shot. Most importantly, there are some that are as good if not better than mine.
So the question is, why take pictures of places that you visit that probably aren’t going to be as good as the photos that others have already taken that are already available for you to use in your own albums, slide shows, whatever? I mean, unless you want to organize the wife and kids in front of the spot just to prove you’ve been there, what’s the point?
Just a question…
Technorati Tags: flickr, australia, phots, creative_commons
Donal Little says
A long time back I had a painter friend who would go on trips and come back with photographs of a couple of small rocks, or a close-up of the yellow line on the blacktop. He liked to tell you where they were taken; he’d do slide shows for his friends and family. The only commonalities were that he had taken the pictures and that they were oddly beautiful.
Heather Ross says
You take them because then they’re your picture. You remember the day you took that picture. It’s not the same when you look at someone else’s picture, even it their’s is better.
Janet Clarey says
I feel a personal connection with the place or thing I’m photographing. What you choose to photograph is what you find interesting. The fact that a million other people took a photo from the same location says that they also found it interesting. What did a child find interesting, an elderly woman, etc. What would a dog find interesting if only he had thumbs? How boring it would be if stopped seeing through the eyes of others.
D'Arcy Norman says
Your photos are better because they are your own. They carry emotional context that is missing from everyone else’s photos – even if others are technically “better”. If photography was just about technical merits (composition, lighting, etc…) you would just sell your camera and buy posters and postcards. There are people who do this, but they are missing out on the joy of looking through an album and saying “hey! remember when we were there? remember when I took this?”
I think that the pictures I (and you) take on our vacations tell our story and more importantly they tell our families’ stories. There have always been photographers who have taken better; more perfect pictures just as there have been writers who write more fascinating travel memoirs. The trouble is these aren’t the story of our trip. Maybe the pictures we have all taken do duplicate shots of tourist spots, maybe they aren’t the best pictures, maybe better pictures are available through Creative Commons; yet the pictures are just like our own travel journal. Both tell our own story.
I think that it is important that as we create and collaborate with others, we also honor our own stories as well.
My children still look at pictures of our trip to England (including the usual touristy pictures) and talk about their memories of the trip. The trip was over 12 years ago. Your children, no matter how you decide to share and preserve your 400+ visual images, will do the same years from now. This is because the pictures are part of their story and their time spent as a family exploring Australia. It is then, no matter how mundane, those pictures become priceless.
The subtext of your question could be “If your pictures aren’t as good…why travel at all?”. Why go to the Statue of Liberty, for example, if your photos won’t be as good as either professional photographers OR your experience won’t be as profound as my grandparents arriving on a tramp steamer after 3 weeks on the Atlantic.
The answer of course is that virtual reality will never replace reality. (See my post on this on my blog at http://plethoratech.blogspot.com/2007/07/pedal-away-from-keyboard.html
My photos taken with my little Canon Elph will always be in my albums and my memory because they represent what I saw and experienced that day, not someone else who saw it.
(Besides, what would we do if we didn’t continually ask our family members to say “Cheese”?
Will Richardson says
Wow…some interesting, unexpected responses. There is a lot of emotion tied into this, and I feel it too. Let me just say that I’m not advocating not actually going to those places. I’m not saying use a photo of the Statue of Liberty in place of actually seeing it in person. But I am wondering, just wondering mind you, now that we have access to hundreds if not thousands of photos of that Statue, if I need to be the picture taker? Yes, if my kids are in the shot, but if I’m just taking a picture of the Statue or the beach or the building, 20 years from now, would I even be able to distinguish between the one that I took and the one that someone else took?
Why write that term paper when there are 100 on the subject already available?
The best way to learn is to do it yourself. Take the pictures, then use Flickr to find better ones and ask yourself, “Why are these better”. Once you know why, try to utilize those concepts the next time.
Pretty soon someone else will be saying, “Heck, why don’t I use these pictures from this Will Richardson fello …”
And as others have said … you have a connection with it when it’s yours. I take underwater pictures while SCUBA diving. Mine aren’t very good … but I was there, and I took it, and there’s satisfaction in that.
that are already available for you to use in your own albums, slide shows, whatever
But they aren’t available to you to reuse if the rights are restricted. Take the image yourself, and you won’t have to worry about that issue.
Also, adding your contribution to the collective, and authorizing re-use, allows people to remix your content in novel ways. Look at what Microsoft has been able to do with Photosynth and Flickr. Your image maybe from the same angle as everyone else’s but assuming it isn’t useful is taking a narrow view.
Dave Solon says
I think it has something to do with Henri Cartier-Bresson’s idea of “The Decisive Moment” — which I haven’t thought about in YEARS – but it comes into play in this discussion.
Though our own photographs look much the same as everyone else’s, those decisive moments belong to US. They are a part of us, and therefore they mean MUCH more to us as individuals.
Please, check out this masterpiece – now available online here:
Thanks for making me think about this again – each time I view his work, I learn something new.
Dave Solon says
(Ok, now you have me thinking even more for my blog !) 🙂
Jennifer Lubke says
Has anyone seen the film Smoke, the scene where Harvey Keitel shows William Hurt the collection of photos he’s taken of the same street corner in Brooklyn every day for days on end? This thread of comments reminds me of that scene. Very moving and very beautiful.
Long before Flickr and digital photography, a friend used to say “get in the photo”, if I wanted a great picture of the landscape, I can buy the postcard.
Laura Deisley says
Will, I think you still “take the picture” because it is part of documenting your story. My journaling of the experience or locale may not be as eloquent or insightful as someone else, but it is part of framing the story ‘from my lens.’ If we fall too far into abundance that the only thing we value is the most beautiful or the best, that is indeed a scary place to be. Now, back to your photo: What if the abundance of photo-taking were to drive MORE ARTISTIC and CREATIVE interpretations of one’s experience…hmmm…now, that might be a thing of greater value.
This is moving a tiny bit OT but Janet Clarey’s comment about “what would a dog find interesting if he had thumbs?” reminded me of a nifty site I found a little while back where a guy attached a lightweight digital camera to his cat’s collar .
Cat goes out, digicam snaps pics at set intervals, cat comes home. http://www.mr-lee-catcam.de/
As for the conundrum, I’ll have to go with the crowd, it’s a reminder of the experience of taking the photo.
Brandt Schneider says
Do we take pictures just because we can? Do we have a fear of missing “the greatest shot ever”?
A good test (for photo addicts) is if you could have gone to this beach and left your camera at the hotel. Its hard to go to a famous or beautiful spot and see that the only activity going on is photo taking. Is the memory we are preserving only about taking pictures?
Chan Bliss says
100s of pictures of the places you visited. Wow what a great research tool to use before you get there. Most of the best photos I have taken have not been snapshots but rather ones that I have worked on, studied the area, known what I was shooting. Often I don’t shoot a picture when I first get to a spot. I have to look around and see whats there. Your thoughts made me realize that I could scout out an area, see what others see and give me time to think of how to improve the image. All before I leave my home.
Dian Kenney says
For me taking a photo solidifies that time in space in my memory. I recently took a photo of Trunk Bay in St. John’s. My photo looked very similar to those I found on Flickr…but my photo was taken through my eyes… my photo-my experiences..your photo-your experiences.
I stopped taking photos of scenic sites or monuments years ago. There are a lot of professional photographers, and now good amateur photographers (Flickr, Stockphotos) who do better. Instead, I changed my attitude about photography: I am no longer a documenter (e.g., of family events or vacations), but an explorer (e.g., of nature or portraits or people).
I do not carry my camera around unless I specifically want to go out on a photo safari. Iâ€™ll get up at before dawn when everyone else is asleep and just go off exploring the world around me.
That said, my teenage son has a totally different view. He has developed a taste for photography in the last year or two. Whereas I weed out the good from the bad photos, he keeps them all. His explanation is that he sees photos, text, etc. as property. They belong to him as long as they are on his hard disk.
Being of a generation where there was a strict border between physical and virtual, I find this concept somewhat difficult to grasp. My son sees it more as online and offline, digital or analog. This means his photos, stories, friendships, etc. are all real or physical or containing certain properties.
Greg E says
What a great post to stimulate critical and divergent thinking…
I’m going to ask a stretchy question like this in class tomorrow. The responses you got were evidence of thinking in action.
I have shared your view for a long time. I don’t take pictures of touristy views any more. Even before the RW web, I bought the commercial postcards and incorporated them amongst the personal pictures of friends and family interacting with the location we visited. (I’ve also liked supporting artists in any way I can, and since I can’t afford expensive art, I do this by purchasing their photographs.)
Lanny Arvan says
If there are people you know in the photo, that makes all the difference. That builds a connection that is not in the professional photo. Otherwise, why indeed?
Lanny Arvan says
If there are people you know in the photo, that makes all the difference. That builds a human connection to the place that is not in the professional photo. Otherwise, why indeed?
Anthony Powell says
I take the picture because I want to become expert at taking the picture. I take the picture because there is satisfaction in taking a good picture or in taking a picture in some way that may not have occurred to another photographer. I enjoy creating. I tweak my writing, photos, musical pieces, and anything else I am creating because I want it to be the best it can be in terms of expressing my vision.
Great question. Thanks to all respondents.
Jay Hurvitz says
Maybe I’m missing something here amid all the comments (and and there are many with which I agree), but among all the comments (so far) I don’t find my basic reason.
I take photographs for much the same reason that I write to my blog – it helps me focus. Just as blogging is a means of thinking via my fingers, clarifying (first and foremost to myself) my thoughts on a particular matter, so taking photographs – framing, determining what to include but also what to leave out, choosing a specific subject, and more – becomes an integral part of my thinking process. By externalizing my thinking in this way (perhaps “making it concrete”?) I become more aware of what it is I’m really seeing.
I photograph less to have a reminder of someplace I’ve been, or of something I’ve seen, than I do to be more of that place at that moment. It’s perhaps strange that an intervening technology actually closes a gap, makes me more aware of what I’m encountering, but for me, at it’s best that’s what taking photographs does.
Tim Hand says
Just having the release of the movie ‘Fur’ in Australia, based(with filmic licence)on Diane Arbus- she viewed photography as both mysterious and sinister, convinced it captured the souls of people & places she photographed.
But the best essay written on photography-a must read for you- is Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’. A number of thesis are explored including that of westerners need for appropriation. I think its also a part of our work ethic-need to be doing while on hols.
PS: would loved to have met up, maybe next time when coming down under?
Alan Levine says
I have my own secret pet dreams that my 10,000 picture of the Sydney Opera House will be the “one” that supercedes all others 😉
No, I make it my own experience, as others have said. Its something about the act of composing, considering a photo that makes the memory more imprinted on my gray matter.
But I know what you are saying, and I find myself thinking, if I just take a picture of that _______, is there something I can do more unique, be it cropping, angle, picking out detail, etc.
And looking at a single picture is missing the point of it being one among a series of selected photos that document an experience. Maybe its just the statue of liberty, but the next one has little Janey gazing up in awe at the flame or little Jimmy doing his imitation pose. Its a river of photos and memories, not single snapshots.
Its very personal, and the photosharing bonus is that if you think the picture is not all that special, you will be gently surprised when it strikes a chord with someone else.
I’m divided by your question Will!
1. I agree with the majority here that in taking the pic in the first place it’s part of the everyday ‘lived’ experience and our everyday practice including taking photos is an intertwined part of that: ‘the river of photos and memories’ as Alan says…
2. Taking photos (to some) may be a bit like talking on the phone during dinner with friends – are we not ‘truly’ living in the moment if we live it behind the lens?
I guess I’m just provoking really, but it’s interesting that in this consumer culture we are all the more consuming and recording our experiences and then (often through Web 2.0) reproducing that to the rest of the world!
3. I like it and it tells a great story where his-tory can become anyone’s-tory! 🙂
(Tenious link 101: Has anyone seen the South Park episode where the world is a game show (like Big Brother)? Awesome!