This past holiday weekend I took a trip to the Baltimore inner harbor with my girlfriend to go visit the National Aquarium. She had never been and it’s a place I’ve been countless times both as a child and in my adult years. I love going to watch all sorts of exotic fish and animals as it creates a genuine sense of wonder for me. Some of them are so beautiful, some of them very ugly, and all of them have this enchanted way of living their life in these tanks, seamlessly swimming and floating in their captured world.
There’s something immeasurably enchanting about watching these creatures – some so unrecognizable from anything around us. When I went this weekend, all of those feelings returned to me, despite the crowds, and I couldn’t help but think that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. But then I noticed a nasty habit forming around me – cameras, lots of cameras. Flashes. Red lights. And it bothered me.
Now granted, for full disclosure, I brought my Canon point-and-shoot myself. There’s no doubt when you make a drive to a place like the Aquarium in the beautiful inner harbor that you’ll want the possibility, at least, of taking a few pictures. Yet, it wasn’t necessarily the cameras themselves that were bothering me. If I had a nice DSLR, I definitely would bring that with a nice prime lens to shoot some breathtaking photos. In that sense, it’s more of a hobby.
What I saw over the weekend, however, was more photography for the purposes of memory. For showing off to Aunt Betty and Uncle Joe on a slideshow. Fine. Understandable. I can accept that. Plus, there are tons of cool fish and animals at the Aquarium that if I didn’t live so close to it I would probably snap a bunch of pictures too.
But that’s still not what bothered me.
What was bothersome about the cameras were the amount of people who were walking up to exhibits cameras on and in hand, snapping pictures, then moving on to the next one. Their entire experience of that exhibit took place through the LCD eye, looking at that tiny screen on the back of the camera. It had me asking myself whether they could really appreciate what they saw?
For one, it seems to me that to truly be able to capture the beauty or interesting part of an image, it would help immensely to see it with your own eyes and ask yourself what is the essence of the subject and how do I convey that in a photograph? Secondly, what’s the point of only viewing the fish through your camera both during and after the trip? If all you wanted was some pictures of these fish, Google images would be happy to oblige without wasting your time and money.
That was the crux to me. At some exhibits I stood for 10 minutes watching, wondering, appreciating and yet these goons snap, snap, snap and move on. Where’s the value in that? Do the pictures even mean as much if you didn’t actually watch the fish or animal?
I’m not bashing picture taking at all at places like this, be it an Aquarium, a Zoo or any other place that lends itself to natural, spontaneous beauty. In fact, I even took some myself – although mostly videos due to the low light and my aversion to flash a bright bulb in an unsuspecting fish’s face. But, what the picture should be, to me, is a reminder. So, I watched the fish for awhile, would take my picture, then watch it a bit more. I wanted to see it with my own eyes and study it. The picture was simply something to help me remember what I felt watching.
Maybe I am the only one who feels this way. Who approaches these things with a “stop and smell the roses” sort of attitude. I don’t want my world to be viewed through an LCD screen or a viewfinder. I’d rather appreciate the visceral intensity of being there than have it captured in a photograph.
In the end, it didn’t ruin my trip, but it did make me think that sometimes we should put our cameras back in our pockets. There are times where the moment is more valuable than the pictures and the memory serves itself without the aid of a visual. After all, if what I wanted was some pictures of amazing creatures, I’d settle for some Discovery Channel. Or I can just wait until 3D photos take over all sense of being there.