In March of this year, a man visited a museum in Milan, Italy, and broke a 19th century statue. He essentially amputated the statue's leg. Now this would be something most people would consider pretty bad. Museums are special places.
Selfies are the big thing in casual photography today. And I know they can be fun.
We were at a restaurant not too long ago with a lot of relatives and we decided we wanted to get a photograph of the group. We got ready and I was going to do the shot as a selfie. As we took the shot, a waiter came by and offered to take the photo for us. I said no. I have found that you get a certain energy in the photo of a family group when one of the group is doing the shot as a selfie, an energy you do not get from some stranger stepping back and taking the picture.
The broken statue, though, is a cautionary tale that goes beyond simple selfies. Today, if you go anywhere where tourists go are, you will see lots of people taking selfies of themselves at the location. While they aren't breaking any statues, they are making the experience of being at a place about getting and posting a selfie rather than actually experiencing the place. The broken statue was more about how clever a person could be for a Facebook or other social media post of a selfie than actually experiencing the museum and its art. Showing you were there with that selfie becomes more important than actually connecting with anything "there."
You might think this is just about young people and camera phones. I think it goes beyond that and this is where it is more likely to affect you and I. Cameras are all too often used as a barrier between the photographer and the subject, not necessarily deliberately, but a barrier none-the-less. I know this is true because I have seen it happen in me and other photographers.
What happens is that we can get caught up in our gear. We start thinking, "Which one of my lenses is really best now?" or "I really wish I had a (full-frame, mirrorless, or any other camera you don't have)." Or we spend a lot of time setting up the tripod and gear, focusing mainly on it or we stand behind your camera on a tripod so that the camera in front of us now dominates the scene. Or we start thinking that the scene won't make a photograph that will impress the folks at the camera club or get enough likes on Facebook. None of which is about engaging with the actual moment in nature.
The point is that the experience of being in and connecting with nature can become secondary to the camera and the photography if we let it. I think we really have to be careful of that. Just as the young man who broke the statue was disrespecting both the statue and the museum, we also disrespect our subjects when the gear and its use becomes more important than our connection to nature.
Sometimes that can mean just putting the camera down and enjoying being alive in a beautiful place or connecting with some remarkable aspect of nature. Neither of those things demand being at some far away park or country. It is about slowing down and observing life in front of us, about truly seeing the wild around us, and using our cameras to capture some of that without having the photography become more important than the experience.