Thursday, June 03, 2010

Just picture it

"A double negative? You mean you have photographs?!" -- Clue

I think it's funny that before I left for Tajikistan so many people said things like "Take lots of pictures!" and now that I'm back, there is much clamoring to see more more more photos.

Allow me to explain. Nilay might think this is about him, as he just recently commented on Facebook that I "need" to post more pictures, but actually I was already thinking about this yesterday. Ezra and Kelly could think some of my thoughts are directed toward them, since I actually commented aloud to them while we were there how I just don't even exist on the same plane as them vis-a-vis the taking of photographs, but this isn't about them either. This is more of a philosophical pondering, if you will.

I mean, I can enjoy looking at pictures as much as the next gal, especially when I need to procrastinate working. I of course agreed with my fellow Habitat Tajikistan volunteers that we'd all share our trip pictures. I am definitely eager to see the pictures people took of the trip of which I was a part, and I am usually at least mildly interested in seeing pictures of trips of which I was not a part. Even if I did find Betty White highly amusing during the Facebook portion of her SNL monologue when she said they used to consider it punishment to have to sit through other people's vacation pictures.

My point is, there's something interesting to me about the way people say it. First of all, sometimes they say, "Don't forget to take lots of pictures!" That amuses me. Does anyone really forget? I sometimes can't be bothered to take pictures, but it's not as if I have somehow forgotten that the option is available. Also, I detect just the slightest hint of entitlement in there to see the pictures. And that's kind of funny, because it's not as if I really owe you anything. I mean, at the end of the day, maybe if you want to see Tajikistan, then you should get yourself on a plane to Tajikistan. No?

But the thing I find super philosophically interesting about it is how people clamor for me to "hurry and post more pictures" when maybe I am perfectly content representing my trip to you in other ways. To wit, this blog. I have proudly declared on more than one occasion that "a thousand words are worth a picture." I was famously the last among my friends to care about whether my cell phone was a camera phone and I'm still planning to be the last to own a digital camera (for now, I usually just use Brian's). I remember a month or so into my time in Korea when I was prolifically blogging all sorts of stories and juicy details and someone back home was like, "But when are you going to post pictures on your blog?"

What if it's "never" - are my travels any less real to you somehow? Maybe I should be offended. Maybe I think less of you if you don't like to read about a trip and you only want visuals.

The fact that I am philosophically amused by this is probably all the more amusing (and philosophical) since my Tajikistan trip was led by a professional photographer. Like for real - his full-time job is as a staff photographer for Habitat for Humanity. So, I was absolutely in the presence of great pictures being taken for much of the time we were there. I totally appreciate that there are talented people out there who take wondrous photographs. I am impressed. But in spite of that -- or perhaps especially because of that -- why the assumption that everyone else should take photographs too? Is it like food? There are great chefs, but the rest of us inevitably have to cook at least a little bit, at least sometimes. Food is just a tad higher on the whole hierarchy of human needs, if I'm not mistaken. I mean, every educated person is expected to be literate enough to write competently, but of course some of us write better than others. I probably wouldn't want to read everyone's written accounts of their travels. But why expect everyone to take photographs?

It's interesting to ponder. If I told people leaving on a trip, "Don't forget to blog about it!" they would look at me quizzically. Especially the ones who don't have blogs. But why is that any more bizarre of a request, really? Maybe I will start saying that to everyone. "Bon voyage! Blog lots!" Then if someone says they don't have a blog I'll be like, "Why not? Blogs are free. Cameras cost money."

I think the real heart of the issue is that despite all of our photo albums, and blogs, and travel narratives sections in bookstores, and the Travel Channel, and the public radio travel show where I myself used to work, and all the Rudy Maxas and Anthony Bourdains out there, despite all of those things it's kind of a self-deception, isn't it, when we look at our friends' pictures of OR when we read their words about Rome, or Machu Picchu, or the Himalaya? It's like denial. We're either telling ourselves that we will get there someday (that's what I tell myself), or we're telling ourselves we're fine if we never get to see those places in person (and that notion is completely antithetical to my being).

I really never thought about it much until this trip. I think the last place I went that intrigued people this much was Cuba, and maybe that's part of it. But for whatever reason, I am totally amused, and I remain totally blase about and thoroughly uncommitted to "taking lots of pictures!"

And, of course, I now have Indigo Girls' "Dead Man's Hill" stuck in my head:

"Don't you write it down
Remember this in your head
Don't take a picture
Remember this in your heart
Don't leave a message
When everything falls apart
Talk to me face to face..."

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