Travel: Experience vs. Documentation

Many of you who know me personally know that I am a freelance photographer and I’ve had some pretty nice jobs in the last couple of years. I also like photography as a hobby, and like to document the places I go and working on new things.

On our trip to Dubai and India, of course I took my camera and took a LOT of photos. But I have to say, I did not take as many photos as I could have. I knew before the trip that I needed to pack lightly and sensibly so I didn’t take my whole kit. I took only my camera body and the standard kit lens. I packed it in my carry-on bag so I knew it would always be with me and prepared myself for the idea that there would be some photo opportunities I would miss out on. The trade-off for me in this situation was that if something were to happen to me or my small bag, all I would lose would be the one camera body and lens instead of my whole kit. Some peace of mind was worth more to me than having the absolute best photos. I knew that my one lens would be able to capture the memories just fine.

When we were in Dubai, I took more photos than I did in India. I realized this as the trip was coming to an end and for a bit I felt a little guilty. I wasn’t sure why I had documented more of Dubai, but I soon realized why. I was not pushed out of my comfort zone in Dubai much compared to India. In Dubai, things were a lot like home here in the US. There were the obvious differences, of course (those will be in a later post…), but in general, things were not that different. Especially when I realized that I was comfortable staying with my sister-in-law and her family, I felt pretty much normal.

So I was able to just carry my camera around (or pawn it off on my husband when I didn’t feel like carrying it, thanks B…) and simply document the scenery, buildings, desert, family, etc. to my heart’s content. But unexpectedly for me, things were a little different when we were in B’s hometown near Kolkata. For the first few days, I really had some culture shock. Everything was so different from home. Some things were different in a good way, some in a bad way. It was just very different.

I chose to experience India more than document it. It was more important for me to experience the place where my husband grew up, see the people in the area, eat his mom’s mouth-watering food, absorb the beautiful colors and patterns of the saris the women wore, breathe in the smells of the local market, get pooped on by a bird while getting groceries, spend time actually talking with his (and my new) family members, etc. than to photograph it all constantly. Don’t get me wrong, I did document a lot of things and experiences in India.

When we (finally) made it back to the US, I felt a lot of different things when I looked back through all of my photos. I did wish that I had taken more photos while we were in India and with his parents and sister, but I now understand the importance of experiencing a place more than simply documenting it. It’s very easy to use your camera as a barrier between yourself and others or between yourself and a situation. I think in some situations it is better to remove that metal, plastic, and glass barrier and BE somewhere. I don’t feel guilty anymore for taking fewer photos in India than in Dubai. I placed more emphasis on experiencing than documenting, and I am not ashamed of that.