A Personal History of Travel Snapshots

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  05.30.12 | 10:19 AM ET

Rolf Potts looks back at tourist photos he has taken over the years and considers how photography shapes and reflects our experiences.

Here’s a taste:

Pictures of scenery were not the only travel images that improved when I traveled to Greece with a digital camera. I also wound up with better pictures of both my travel companions and myself. Each shot of a person was, in a sense, a negotiation: An unspoken code compelled us to delete unflattering photos of each other from our memory-cards and retry a given shot until we all looked handsome and happy and at ease. We weren’t photographing our travel experience as it was, but as how it should have been. Each photo we retained on our memory-cards stood as a correct answer to some Platonic inquiry about what we might ideally look like as we sailed through Greece.

“We learn to see ourselves photographically,” Susan Sontag wrote in the days before digital photography. “To regard oneself as attractive is, precisely, to judge that one would look good in a photograph.” In the digital age, making oneself attractive has become a recursive feedback loop—a simple matter of patience, persistence, and real-time editing.

In one shot from the sailing excursion, three of my female friends look particularly radiant: Tanned and relaxed, smiling unselfconsciously, they’re clearly enjoying their holiday. Their blissful gaze rests not on a Greek vista, not on the sailboat, but on an image of themselves—in Greece, on the sailboat—captured on the display screen of their digital camera.


1 Comment for A Personal History of Travel Snapshots

DEK 05.30.12 | 12:08 PM ET

I am sure it will be not far in the future — if it is not already here — that software will allow us to so manipulate digital images that it will not be necessary to go to Greece, let alone get on a yacht, in order for us to have perfect digital memories of the experience.

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