What is the point of taking photographs?
Tourists often want to take photographs to document their experience
Posted on: 13th March 2013
I remember being struck by the comments of a leader of one of the villages that we passed through when I was hiking on the Annapurna Trail. Speaking about tourists, he said:
'They look at our mountains, eat our food, sit by our fires, but they don't see our problems. They just go home and show their friends the pretty pictures.'
I can't deny that I saw many pretty scenes on that trip, and took photographs of them. It is indeed a great pleasure to look at the beautiful scenes we witness while travelling - but at its best, travel is not simply about enjoyment, but about having contact with other cultures and traditions. Every culture has specific ways of looking at the world, and it is certainly a good thing to step outside our own cultural cocoon now and again to see things from a different point of view. Our experiences when travelling can be incredibly valuable and perspective-altering, even life-changing .
Instinct for telling stories
I think the urge we feel to take pictures and keep diaries is an example of the fundamental human instinct to tell stories. They are a way of communicating the effect that travel has on us, and last even as our memories fade. The stories that my father told about his travels in Mozambique in the 1920s, and the diaries he kept had a huge impact on me.
I am particularly keen to tell the story of my hike through Annapurna as it was a trip that affected my outlook considerably. I had gone mainly through an interest in nature, but when I returned, I was surprised to find that perhaps the biggest change in my outlook was a greater appreciation of the part that human activity plays in evolution.
Homo sapiens is a highly predatory species, but we are also unique in being conscious of the effects of our actions. The trip in Annapurna helped to convince me that we need to use technology to reduce global poverty without destroying natural environments. If the pictures I took can help others understand why I came to that conclusion, then I think they will have served a purpose beyond being pretty.
See a larger version of this slide, and other images from the trip, on my Pinterest page.