12 July 2009

Picturesque Behavior

So I was at school earlier today. And given it is a Sunday, not a lot of people were on campus. I was busy plonking at my keyboard, growing my second draft of the dissertation proposal. Somehow, it grew exponentially. The first draft that I turned in a month ago was 24 pages long. Now, I am at 38 and I am still working on it.

Anyway, enough of the dissertation for the moment. I wanted to talk about something else, and that is, about people's behavior whenever they take pictures.

See, there was this two ladies on campus, and they were taking pictures around campus like crazy. They were in the middle of the street, they were in front of the buildings, they were everywhere. They flash their fingers in a V-sign, they smile, they frolic.

Somehow, I do not understand that.

See, I realized that there are various behaviors when one takes photos. There is the person who takes pictures only with people in them. I have some friends whose photo albums in Facebook all involve them in front of some building in some locale, often when in vacation. I do not have a problem with that, but I wonder why for every picture, they have someone in it?

Perhaps it is because they want to prove to the people they know that they have been there. Perhaps it is a way of memorializing the fact that for some time in the past, they have been there. That they have walked the pavement in the Trafalgar Square, that they have stood at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, that they have climbed Machu Picchu.

Then, there is the behavior that I exhibit. I rarely take pictures with myself in it. Perhaps, because I usually travel alone, so nobody is there to take my picture, but even when my friend and I go on roadtrips together, I rarely take pictures of my own. Perhaps, it is because the purpose of my taking photos is to document the beauty of the place that I saw, so that when I browse my photos after the trip, I can reminisce on the wonders of the things that I witnessed. I do not need to have myself in the photograph, perhaps because I do not feel the need to show to other people that I have been in places that they haven't been to yet.

Now, there's the third behavior, that I really do not understand. There are people who take photos of themselves, say, standing in front of a Ferrari. Is that really noteworthy? Everyone knows that the Ferrari you are posing in front of is not yours. So why take a picture of it? That is one behavior that I cannot find an explanation for.

I suppose this is just another one of those human behaviors that exhibit the different value systems different people have. For some people, it is important for them to document the fact that they once stood in front of the dressed-up guard at the Buckingham Palace. For some people, it is important to capture the serene beauty of the Andes. And for some people, it is important to document the fact that they saw what a Ferrari looked like.

(Wall Etch, from my DC Memorials Series)


  1. I think that picture taking has 2 objectives. The first objective is to capture the place and the second objective is to capture a memory. It is almost impossible to capture a memory, and memory flashes come in unexpected ways - certain weather, certain smells, or even a piece of ticket from 5 yrs back. I think pictures is a great visual stimulation and having humans in it only makes it livelier. Plus its easy, so why not!

    For a LONG time I hated taking my pictures - I thought that was cheap and purposeless. But now as I grow old and go away from places I dearly miss, I wish I had taken some pictures of me in certain eventful locations, my mountain biking in Himalayas for example. I have thus (since last year) made it a point to take pictures of me everytime I can. Having you (or your friends) in your picture adds a different dimension to it - you suddenly feel the ambiance, smell the air, hear the sounds and bring back a flush of memories from the past. It also serves as a live-journal esp if you look at it after years. Person-less pictures? Well there are many on flickr, perhaps capturing the beauty of the place in a way better fashion than me.

    As for overly touristic 'I was here!' 'I was here too!' pictures, well, lets just watch them and laugh.. :D

  2. Priyank,

    I absolutely agree. Capturing the place and the memory are the two objectives of taking pictures. Perhaps, for some people, standing in front of a Ferrari is a memory worth keeping!

  3. I have very few pictures of me, as you may have notice on my blog. Only when the place is very memorable, like hiking in Patagonia or sleeping on a long bus ride. It means something to me to haver these pictures as memories, but then, I'd rarely share them and definitely not on the web.

    I'm shy when it comes to posing in a picture. I like snapshots in action best.

  4. Zhu,

    I feel the same way too. I prefer to just scan my brain for memories whenever I want to remember what it was like being there. I don't need to see myself in the picture.