Indian ladies

Life + Stuff: Snappy

Lately I’ve noticed how intrusive photography can be. Whenever anything noteworthy happens, my first reaction is to grab my iPhone.

Indian ladies
What’s wrong with this picture?

On a recent group trip to India, twelve cameras would appear every time an elephant, palace or sari-clad villager came into frame. We all started seeing everything as photo opp, a process that interfered with simply being there.

It hit me how disconnecting this was when we arrived at a remote farming village and a group of elderly ladies wandered down the road. Within seconds, shutters were snapping like red carpet paparazzi.

The gap-toothed old women knew they would elicit this response. They posed cheerfully, peering gleefully into digital camera screens.

They dressed up because they knew we were coming and, while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it compromises the voracity of the experience.

It’s nothing new to rock up to a Hmong village in Northern Thailand and encounter women in neck rings demanding 100 baht per shot. Same goes for little kids in national dress.

It’s just a bit disappointing to think that old ladies are getting in on the act.

It made me aware of the difference between observing with the naked eye and looking through a lens. The presence of a camera doesn’t just change how you see things; it also changes the behaviour of the subject.

Are you a compulsive photographer? Or do you upload it all to your memory?

4 comments on “Life + Stuff: Snappy

  1. I’m a memory uploader, people who grab for their cameras every time something interesting happens are missing the moment! And honestly, with the hundreds of thousands of digital pics we all take now, when are you ever going to look at them? Enjoy the moment.

  2. I’m a camera tragic but I disagree with Aims, I don’t think I’m missing the moment. I think I’ve worked out a good balance of taking it all in AND getting a keepsake to look back on. Getting a great shot of an amazing scene can actually enhance my experience at the time, too.

    As for the old women in the village, I don’t like taking photos of preplanned things like that. I do it more as a duty – they expect it and it just seems polite!

  3. I wrestle with this one all the time too; love taking photos, with my camera not usually my phone, but try to ‘be’ there too. As Mel said, try to find a balance; and sometimes photographing something can make you pay more attention to it, observe it from different angles, make you notice the light.

    Something else I’ve noticed recently is a kind of lonesomeness that comes when you’re not taking pics but are surrounded by snappers – everyone looking into their phones or at the camera screens or through camera lenses. I also find that in situations when I don’t have my camera (eg when surfing in the rain, as I was the other day) I remember things so vividly…

  4. I hear you!!

    Thank you for pointing this out.

    I totally saw this on my most recent visit to India just a few weeks ago. People in these areas get used to it and make a business out of it if they can.Actually though I received the same treatment as a blonde white traveller. The indian tourists saw me coming a mile off and pulled out the cameras for snaps – is this not equally as invasive. I felt pressured, uncomfortable and agitated when it happened regularly. I then saw how these poor people I snapped away at felt.

    I had 2 experiences on the last trip where I was not allowed to use my camera at all. Once in the slums of mumbai on a reality tour and the other at the cremation on the banks of the Ganges. It did allow me the opportunity to stop, absorb what was going on and examine the situations as they really were. My travel writer side was going mad but it was a great experience to really see these great scenes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.