I’m not a photographer. But while traveling, I do have a rule about not photographing people whom I don’t either talk to or ask permission first. People aren’t statues or scenery for tourists to dehumanize like inanimate objects. I passed almost 100 farmers and Berber families along the road from Chefchaouen to Akchour whom I would have loved to photograph but didn’t. Maybe that’s out of respect, but maybe that’s out of fear: fear that I would’ve botched the photo, fear that my camera wasn’t good enough, fear of sticking out like a tourist.
After family number 100, I broke my rule after letting so many good scenes pass without taking a picture. For breaking my rule, karma laughed at me, and the picture turned out blurry and unusable. Being that I’m not Jimmy Chin or Steve McCurry, any pictures I take won’t be captured to share with the world; I’ll just be one of the millions of tourists who go on vacation and take mediocre pictures of the same blocks of stone for their own personal collections.
Hassan II Mosque, Stonehenge and The Pyramids have already been photographed, and photographed by people with better skill and a better camera than a 5 megapixel point and shoot. As a foreigner, I already have one tourist label slapped on my forehead; there’s no need to slap several more on by walking around with a camera in front of my face the whole trip.
It’s easy to become so focused on capturing the perfect postcard photo (with said 5 megapixel point and shoot) that a tourist only looks at the scenery through a viewfinder instead of taking it in with his own eyes. What’s the point of waiting to get back home to look at your trip via pictures that you don’t remember because you never really looked around where you were while you were there? Might as well watch a travel show filmed in HD and save the money on a trip that you never really experienced. Just as baffling, what’s the point of going through 1,000 pictures, 900 of which involve you, the tourist, posing in front of something, as though the only thing that matters in (insert country you’re traveling to) is you?
And yet, for that group of 21-year-old tourists riding on their first train, maybe gleefully taking pictures of every farmer walking along the countryside outside the window of a train is a part of the experience. Even if no one else cares, it’s not quite the same looking at a professional photo of Marrakesh in National Geographic as a camera-phone picture of you standing in front of a camel. Travel pictures are souvenirs, for some, even more valuable than an actual handmade souvenir. It’s really no one’s place to tell someone what they should or shouldn’t photograph, or that the proper way to experience travel is with your own eyes, a tour guide’s eyes, or through a viewfinder.