No one can deny that a huge part of travelling is self-discovery, despite it having become a cringeworthy cliché. I expect I’ve learnt more than I’m fully aware in New Zealand, about what kind of person I am and what my priorities are. However, one characteristic that has become abundantly clear, is that I lack the photography instinct; much to Hayley’s frustration, in special moments, I just don’t think to pull out my camera or phone to take a picture. In lots of ways, I’m glad this is the case: taking a picture might be the easiest way to save a moment as a memory, but it can also distract from the moment itself, dampening that memory’s potential. But as I was running home the other day (home now being the Pancake Rocks Café in Punakaiki), I regretted that I’d missed the opportunity to take a certain picture. Since I didn’t get the photo, I’ll try to describe it with words.
A couple stands on the pavement directly in front of me. They’re next to each other but facing slightly inwards towards the road, feet and bodies at precisely the same angle. Both are wearing knee length khaki shorts; she’s in a purple V-neck, he’s in a navy collared t-shirt and a light brown cap. Their backdrop transitions, top to bottom, from clear blue sky, to green bush, to grey road. You can hear the Tasman Sea against the beach and jagged rocks, hidden behind a beach-front motel, trees, and the Punakaiki Tavern. The woman holds a large smartphone just above her head, taking a picture of the wild west coastal road in front – towering green cliffs; the man mirrors her movements exactly, but using a black digital camera.
There was something so perfect about this shot – their positions, actions, and expressions of deep concentration – that I was disappointed I’d run past without slyly getting a picture. Now I think the result may never have lived up to expectation – better left as a mental image. I could hear their conversation when they arrived home, wherever that might be, and were looking through their holiday snaps, frustrated by the time-consuming job of deleting duplicate photos on multiple devices: “Now which part of the West Coast is this then? And why do we have eight of the same shot?”. This imaginary picture had such a strong narrative as well as visual appeal, as a moment of companionship, and as a commentary on our photo “addiction” – beautiful, but also beautifully critical.
Excessive photo-taking seems to be a growing phase. For lots of people, when they arrive in a beautiful place, their priority is pulling out their cameras, even before they look with their eyes. Most get deleted or forgotten, and they never live up to the reality of what’s in front of you, but it’s become an instinctive response whenever we’re doing something enviable. This obsession, fuelled by social media, seems enough to drive out common sense – it’s more often than not a waste of time, in the present and future. This isn’t to say that photos can’t be incredibly beautiful and valuable, but moments should be chosen carefully, before photographs are considered the most significant thing to take away from an experience.