I’m currently in the midst of a ‘Grand Tour’ of Italy, chaperoning two young ladies as we see all the usual sites. I’m presently holed up in a flat on a hill in Amalfi in an attempt to evade the hordes of tourists crawling over the town while my wife takes the kids to eat, drinking 66cl bottles of Nastro Azzurro bought cheap at the local CarrefourExpress and reflecting on an existential dilemma I’ve experienced while here.
Unfortunately, we’ve chosen to travel at a time when Italy is experiencing a heatwave of historic proportions, and, given that we’re not ‘bus tour’ types, we’ve had our share of sweltering trains, metros, local buses and cheap hostels in addition to the usual tourist trap indignities. I’ve traveled enough to know the drill, but the kids are learning as we go. My advice to them: learn to love it. Embrace the hassle, the inconvenience, the rude locals (they think you’re the rude ones), and remember, here you’re the stranger, so lose the cultural arrogance and you just might learn something. And one absolute rule: if approached at a bus station or Metro by someone who asks if you speak English, the correct answer is always “no.”
Unfortunate as well, I’m also dragging around a camera bag heavy with an M4 and a few lenses, 2 Ricoh GXRs, and 40 rolls of film, batteries, chargers etc, unfortunate because I haven’t used any of it since I’ve arrived. They’ve stayed back in the flat while I’ve enjoyed exploring on foot without them, but I’ve still had to drag them from city to city on trains and buses and metros. Given the heat, I decided to use the iPhone for the travel pictures, since I never look at the pictures anyway once I’m home. The whole ‘vacation photograph’ thing increasingly seems an exercise in futility – there’s [my wife/me/the kids/some funnily-dressed foreign guy] standing in front of [Trevi Fountain/canal in Venice/Leaning Tower of Pisa etc]. Yawn. It’s the functional equivilent of taking photos of the sunset at the beach. I’m starting to question the very idea of travel photography; in an age of visual saturation, where a thousand pictures of anything are available via a quick Google, exactly what is the point again? If I do a cursory anthropological study of my fellow travelers, its main purpose seems to be as an emotional crutch, a means of adopting a role to help make sense of the uncertainties of travel.
So, my iPhone, in addition to being my phone, map, tour guide, compass, email/txt receptacle and mp3 player (70’s era ZZ Top, back when they were just a Texas Blues band, cranked up to max, fits perfectly while walking through Naples), is serving as my camera. And I love it. It’s so quick and easy, and its fun. Use something like Hipstamatic or Snapseed and you can do all sorts of stuff with a few keystrokes. Of course, so can everyone else, which means your claim to be uniquely creative rests solely on the emotiona/aesthetic/documentary qualities of your output and not on the fact that you took it with a D5 or M10 with Noctilux. Which is the way it should be, in spite of the fact that I still feel like I’m “cheating” in some way.