Pics or it Didn't Happen.
I was cleaning out my backpacks from the Peru/Mexico trip, taking out the half eaten Clif bars and wadded up tissues, cleaning off the dried up mud and mold in my canteens (whoops), when I remembered to add ‘organize photos’ to my list of Sunday to-dos that never get accomplished. A lot of people, namely my dad and the rest of my family, have been asking when I’m going to post an album of my trip on Facebook or when I’m going to put my photos on a CD…or a DVD.
I told my dad I could just connect my phone to the TV and he could see all my photos, even the unnecessary shots of all the churros I ate. (Also completely 100% necessary, I may add). I also noted that I didn’t think we had any blank CDs lying around the house anymore.
So, I’m cleaning out my gross, well-lived backpacks thinking about what I might do with these photos. I had already lit up Instagram with my best 9 out of probably 300, shared these to Facebook, and wrote a blog post about my trek. That seems pretty aggressive to me on the photo end.
I’m a big fan of Nayyirah Waheed. Her short poems are deep and true and stick in your mind like glue. (Did not intend for that to rhyme, seriously.) It takes a hell of a lot of talent to say a lot, provoke a lot of thought, in just a few words or phrases, and she nails it.
I’m organizing all my camera chargers, cords, and batteries, when this pops into my mind:
you still want to travel to
you could not take a camera with you.
-a question of appropriation
This poem, among many of Waheed’s other works, has always stuck with me.
Now a days, we hate social media, but we also love it. We stay connected to friends and family we wouldn’t always have otherwise. And not just in the back and forth communication style. I went on this trip with a friend from LA that I hadn't seen since high school, because of something I posted on Facebook about Machu Picchu over a year ago. I can bond over my love of tacos, memes, or yoga with my family in Mexico and Germany. Not to say you can't have these relationships without social media, but this post is about photos, and I'm not gonna get into it.
We do things for the gram. We do things for the pic. We do things for the snap. We do things for the story.
And no matter how much we say we don’t care, we kind of do. Because social media is essentially our curated self, how we perceive our real selves and how we want the rest of the world to see us. This could be accurate or very inaccurate, but it’s all perception.
Back to photos.
What would we do if we couldn’t travel to _____ without a camera? Without our smartphone to take a snap and, of course, see if there’s a geotag in Cusco, Peru, or Bangkok, Thailand.
I mean, it’s the experience, right?
But, it’s also about the story. About the memories. About the learning.
Pictures are a gateway into worlds not everyone can see, not everyone can travel to. They tell the story of rebellions and protests on the other side of the world, the aftermath of hurricanes, the story of cultures different from our own, so that we may learn to appreciate, or, realize we all aren't that different.
There is a line.
A question of appropriation that Waheed raises.
And it’s valid and accurate. Depending on how you think about it.
There’s nothing wrong with taking pictures, but it’s what you’re taking the photos of and what you’re doing it for.
There’s also another point:
Would we experience the moment more - the people, tastes, land, and smells - if we didn’t have a camera, a smartphone?
We can think about the pros and cons of traveling with or without a camera, about our social media use and self-portrayals, but that gets away from the point of just living, right?
A photo becomes something more than a photo, but a debate. But a photo is more than, just a photo - it’s the subject matter, the moment, the culture.