Pics Or It Didn't Happen

by Chloë Hudson

Photography by Polly Bainbridge

Been there, done that, took the photograph.

You’ve done your research—you know that in order to get that photograph of that incredible view, you need to angle the shot in that particular way and stand right there. Because not doing so would surely render your entire trip fruitless. You hand the camera to your closest companion who photographs your practiced poses. Next, you pull someone to your side and fake some “candids.” You take your phone back, make sure the pictures are up to par and walk away forever. You’ve done your job—one of them will definitely be “Insta-worthy.” Caption: #notagreenscreen.

With the growth of social media, pictures are now frequently filtered and posted across profiles as if they were trophies. No one else will know that you barely spent five minutes looking at the Eiffel Tower or peering through the gates of Buckingham Palace. All they will see is your favorite photo of yourself, surely tagged with its enviable location.

But photography often takes a traveler out of the present moment. The photographer is already thinking about the future instead of experiencing the experience. The camera becomes a barrier between an individual and a moment. The audience and its expectations influence the photographs that are being taken.

“People so often whip out their cameras almost mindlessly to capture a moment,” said Linda Henkel, a psychological scientist, “to the point that they are missing what is happening right in front of them.”

Henkel’s research has explored the relationship between photography and memory. In a recent experiment at the Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University, she asked undergraduate students touring the museum to either observe or photograph specific objects, and then tested their memory of them the following day. The results showed that the students’ memory of the photographed objects was less accurate than their memory of the observed objects.

This, in turn, suggests that photographs might actually defeat the purpose of souvenirs. Travelers need to learn how to put their cameras down. The next time you travel, try going off the grid. Do not let an online social media platform control an offline adventure.

Instead, consider more traditional souvenirs, like postcards, which encourage travelers to document a concrete experience. Send your memories to someone with whom you truly want to share, instead of focusing on posting photos for everyone to see. Postcards are actually the third most collected memento, and for approximately $1 each, you can forget about the “likes” and focus on the place.

Add another piece of paper to your soon-to-be crowded corkboard, and spark a friend’s wanderlust with “Greetings from…”