Thought Catalog

Stop Taking Pictures Of Things

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I’ll admit it – for a while I thought I was the next Annie Leibovitz. I took a photography class armed with my mom’s Nikon N80 with the malfunctioning light meter caused by a dent incurred when it was dropped on my parents’ honeymoon in Venice. I, of course, kept my film in the freezer and ran around speaking eloquently and obsessively about F-Stops and apertures.

For my inventory subject I chose “Flora” and I very seriously and vigorously trekked through gardens and landscapes in pursuit of my subjects. I spent hours in the dark room, painstakingly developing first the negatives and then the prints – all of which were inevitably and woefully overexposed.

After two summers of this – I can’t even remember the photo project I chose for the second photography session – I took a hard honest look at my collection of prints and threw down my hat. I accepted defeat and admitted to myself that I just wasn’t a good photographer and I walked away. I was fourteen.

Ten years later and everyone except me thinks that they’re the next Annie Leibovitz. With the advent of Hipstamatic for the iPhone, everyone on my Facebook feed is constantly taking visually stimulating photos of the most mundane of objects. Or their cats.

Before that it was food porn – pages upon pages of the internet were devoted to glorious, gluttonous food porn. You couldn’t sit down to a meal without experiencing a blitz of flash photography that assaulted the atmosphere of even the smallest café. There was a high-tec digital camera equipped with a macro-lens and a flash at every other table. When the food arrived there was the inevitable wait for everyone at the table to get “their shot” before anyone actually – imagine! – ate the food. I’ve even seen diners stride up to another table with their cameras and request a photo of a dish they didn’t order but just had to get a picture of.

Just when it seemed like finally, this wave of compulsive capturing was beginning to ebb, the age of Tumblr dawned. All of a sudden, everyone was a fashion photographer or a street style savant. If you weren’t taking photographs of yourself in eccentric outfits in weird places (yes, that hot pink turban does go perfectly with that grimy cobblestone) – then you were taking photos of other girls who didn’t seem to do anything all day except wander around in weird outfits waiting for “street style photographers” to take their photo.

Now, it seems, the epidemic has spread again. Of course, there have always been people who take photographs of paintings and sculptures and things in museums.  I can remember being at the Pompidou in Paris with a friend while studying abroad and shaking our heads at the tourists who whipped out their point-and-shoot for every Picasso.

“WHY?” We groaned. We were tourists of a sort, too – and we took our fair share of obligatory Paris photos; the view from the Sacré-Cœur, the steps of Montemarte, the bakeries in the Marais, smoking a cigarette with a glass of red wine at a café in the afternoon, etc. But we would have never thought to take a photo of the paintings.

The other day I skipped over to the Museum of Modern Art on the early side of a Thursday afternoon. Because it’s August, I knew I’d be outflanked by tourists 24-1 but at least, I thought, it was better than going on a Saturday. The crowds were okay. Living in New York, you get used to crowds—they’re not so bad.

You know what was bad? The fact that every single painting had someone taking a picture of it. Sometimes it was just a quick iPhone click-and-go, other times it was a full-fledged staging that required a squint, squat, and snap. The worst were the moms forcing their adolescent daughters to stand awkwardly next to Starry Night or Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and bare their braces to the camera and the world.

Everywhere I looked, in every gallery, there were people taking pictures of various paintings – and it wasn’t limited to the major works. They were even taking pictures of a series of very old photographs of people taking photos. That’s people taking pictures of photographs of people taking photographs. Mind-boggling. It made me sad to think that these people felt like they needed to record each painting or photo instead of just taking the time to enjoy and experience it.

Did they feel like they needed to post these photos on Facebook to prove something? And haven’t they rolled their eyes at enough of their friends’ boring “look what I did/saw on vacation” photos to know that no one cares? I wanted to yell, to scream, to instruct everyone in the gallery to stop taking a picture of the painting in front of them and to just look at it.

And what’s worse – what do they do with these photos later? Most of them probably get deleted and forgotten, and then what are they left with? The vague memory of taking photos of paintings at MOMA rather than seeing the paintings at MOMA. If they dared to put the camera down and actually look at the paintings, they would also, perhaps, realize how unique an experience it is to see these amazing art works in real life and how different it is than looking at a photo of them online or in a textbook.

So stop taking photographs of your food and just eat it. Stop dressing up so that someone will take your picture and just get dressed. At some point, we need to put the camera down and look at things with our own eyes. I guess it’s tempting to capture all that you’ve seen and experienced and it’s especially easy to do online, but resist the urge to contribute to that virtual stockpile of images and just experience the things that are right in front of your eyes, right here in the real world. TC mark

image – Orin Zebest

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    • kelly dee

      I love this. so great. so true. preach.

      • FreddiPass

        Amen.  Anybody else is taking themselves way too seriously.

    • D.

      who are you to judge what taking those photos means to some people? why should you hate so hard on what these people are so passionate about?

      • S.S

        you must be one of them…

        • D.

          haha i’m actually not, and i’ll admit that i do agree with some points of this article, but the whole tone just seems a little harsh :-

        • S.S

          Haha, well at least she’s got her point a little mixed up with the tourists maybe? Like they don’t get to visit MoMa (hey I live in Singapore!) so I guess if I ever visit it (which I hope to, one fine day) I’ll probably on a happy trigger mode. In her defense though, I do get what she’s trying to say and I have to do a facepalm when I see girls (and guys) taking photos of each other in some sort of artsy fartsy pose, in a I’m-a-cool-indie-kid way and well taking photos of…things (bicycles, public phones, etc). I do, though, take photos of cats, I’m a cat-stalker like that cause I can’t own one. Life.

        • wamp wamp

          Exactly! It’s amusing when people take artsy photos, but at one point or another we will all think a photo we take is cooler than it really is. And people take photos of their cats because they are special to them! This article just had too many examples that did not all tie together enough to make a valid point. I feel like it is literally saying, “have a camera but don’t find anything pleasurable enough to actually use it.”

      • http://molokovellocet.tumblr.com -w-

        lol yeah taking pictures at a museum on your iPhone is true passion!!!11

        • gab

          hey, some people have different standards for art!

    • http://molokovellocet.tumblr.com -w-

      THANK YOU. I went on a class trip of sorts to Berlin and at the Hamburger Bahnhof everyone was taking pictures of everything. They have a huge collection of Andy Warhols, so naturally everyone was taking a picture of each. UHM DID Y’ALL KNOW THESE ARE ALL ON THE INTERNET?! Any weird video installation, they’d film it. Photography of photography, they’d complain about the glare. We do go to art school and some people needed a few pictures for their research but it was just horrible being with 50 19 year olds armed with a DSLR. It made me want to walk around the museum backwards. 

    • http://twitter.com/lukebourassa Luke Bourassa

      Awesome:  “They were even taking pictures of a series of very old photographs of people taking photos. That’s people taking pictures of photographs of people taking photographs. Mind-boggling.”

      This is why I can’t commit to blogging: “It made me sad to think that these people felt like they needed to
      record each painting or photo instead of just taking the time to enjoy
      and experience it.”

    • your cousin

      I stopped taking pictures of sites and scenery when I realized that a) seeing them through the camera lens was ruining my experience of seeing them in real life and b) I can look up most of that stuff online. I barely ever take pictures anymore – only ever of people I know or of very rare occurrences that I don’t want to forget.

    • Bob bill

      this is so true. thank god this was posted.

    • wamp wamp

      You just sound like a snob. Have you ever considered that not everyone is able to live in NY and visit MoMA as frequently as you are? Maybe those taking photos have waited their entire lives to see their favorite priceless works of art in person. The first time I was able to visit I took all of the pictures I could. And no, not to put them on facebook to validate my love of art. You may be surprised to find that not everyone uses the Internet for shameless self promotion. The photos sit in an album that I frequently look at when I feel an itch to travel, or when I need inspiration. Everyone knows that museums, historical landmarks, beautiful outdoor landscapes, etc. are tourist traps. I understand that taking images in through your own eyes vs. the camera offers a different experience, but who are you to say that someone cannot have their own unique experience? Honestly, who cares what someone takes a picture of? If you don’t want a photo, don’t take one.

    • http://twitter.com/palespectre flipside of a memory

      Some points I agree with, but different people have different reasons. And just because one takes a photo doesn’t mean he or she wasn’t able to enjoy and experience it.  I personally would take picture if it was a huge passion of mine or if I waited all my life just to experience it or see something.  I am more bothered with people who video shows/gigs/concerts.  The band/artist is in front of you, wouldn’t you rather watch that and enjoy the experience, instead of through how many cm of viewfinder, etc.

    • Jes

      Or it’s not that big of a deal. 

      Let people take pictures of whatever they want?  Let the swarms of Japanese tourists that create revenue for our city everyday anyways snap away?

      You sound like one of THOSE people who just judges other people based on their behavior.  Maybe you should just mind your own business and live your own life rather than criticizing the lifestyles of others.

      Just saying.

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

         Doesn’t everyone judge others based on their behavior?  I mean without behavior how else do we judge?  On appearance solely?  I think we both know that doesn’t work . . .

    • John Cortes

      While I do agree it useless to photograph well documented works of art, that have been say, professionally scanned and readily available. . You kind of just hated about casual photography in general such as that of scenery and in that I feel each photo still retains it’s own uniqueness and composition that renders it reasonable. Why must you be a professional to enjoy this art?

    • Guestropod

      But they do see and eat and enjoy the food, just afterwards.  It’s not take a picture of the food OR enjoy the food (or the art, or the I can’t remember what else you said).  

    • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

      I don’t take many pictures and I appear in even less. Life’s too short to spend my time trying to chronicle it instead of living it.

    • Broganhickman

      Some people can find beauty in photos of “mundane” objects. This is just you bitching and honestly proving that you need to open your mind a little more.

    • http://profiles.google.com/rushelmiller Rushel Miller

      I’s kind of sad that people are being so harsh and defensive about this. I totally understand where you’re coming from.

      Gone are the days when people are having so much fun experiencing a moment, they don’t have the time to document every second of it.

      It’s not about whether you take good photos or not–I think the author is simply saying–put down the camera and gaze after something with your own eyes. Try to live the moment fully, instead of simply documenting it to be relived through photos.

    • Stardust0745

      I understand and agree with what I think was the purpose of this article, that people often become obsessed with sharing rather than experiencing. Instead of living in the moment, people become concerned with how each experience is going to look to their Facebook friends later. That’s not to say that all picture taking should be avoided; I love looking back at old pictures, especially of vacations. It brings back memories. I often wish I took more, though not to the extent of the Facebook-obsessed.

    • Stardust0745

      I understand and agree with what I think was the purpose of this article, that people often become obsessed with sharing rather than experiencing. Instead of living in the moment, people become concerned with how each experience is going to look to their Facebook friends later. That’s not to say that all picture taking should be avoided; I love looking back at old pictures, especially of vacations. It brings back memories. I often wish I took more, though not to the extent of the Facebook-obsessed.

    • http://twitter.com/kyleangeletti Kyle Angeletti

      It’s curious how surprised you seem by all of this. 

      Also, I checked out your blog. You’re kind of a hypocrite.

    • Adolf Hipster

      I think this is a bit too harsh on those who take photos at museums, I like doing that, when I go back several months/years later and look back I’m reminded of WHY I took that photo, and that’s always a great feeling. Photos aren’t just a necessary part of going somewhere new to people, they’re memories.

    • Mary

      I think the examples are really making different points. Tourist photography and average daily life photography really should be separated into two rants. It’s one thing to take a photo of something you probably may never be back in a city to see. It’s another to whip out your camera to photograph your nachos or your cat nachos.

      My opinion is simply this, if you want to document every minute of your life that’s fine, I’m not gonna judge you. Just please do not bother me in my life with your documentation needs and desires. 

      Several weeks ago I also decided to stop into the MOMA. I was standing reading the print “Life is Very Interesting” by Cameron Platter and was standing a little off to one side of the print. A girl came up to me and asked me to move because I was in the picture she was trying to take. I informed her that I would move when I was done and that she could wait, as I had done, to have a chance with the work. She said, is it really THAT inconvenient to ask you to step aside for a few seconds, and I told her, you’re the 5th person to ask me that in the last 45 minutes I’ve been in the museum, so yes, it is. This isn’t a photo shoot location, it’s a museum. Then the girl used a flash to take the photo. 

      • Customconcern

        You should have nodded and smiled and said “of course, I’m sorry for impeding you, because you are clearly a more important person than me in every single way.”

        Then you should have found a security guard and pointed out the girl to him/her, and said something like “I heard her and her friend talking about how they were going to bomb the museum. They look really nervous…”

        Victory. 

    • Guest

      honestly? my dad is one of THOSE picture takers. and yeah, when we’re on vacation or something it really bothers me to have to stop every time he sees something interesting. but i know that there will come a day when those pictures will be all that are left of his mind and i will love to be able to sit and look through them and remember all of the wonderful things he saw that he thought were interesting.

    • mc

      The hoards of camera phone photos taken at the MOCA’s Art in the Streets exhibit was absolutely horrendous. I did snap a few photos of pieces I found inspiring, but the entire gallery space was clogged up with queues of people taking photos of almost every single piece. It’s a little hard to take in the art when you have people literally reaching over your shoulder, iPhone in hand. 

      • Guestropod

        but you were taking photos tooooooooooo

        • mc

          i can’t winnnnnnnn

    • Brocolivia

      Some people just find beauty in the simplest/most mundane things. Haven’t you watched American Beauty when that dude couldn’t stop taking a video of the plastic bag flying around in the wind?

    • Justine Johnson

      i normally love self-aware blurbs like this but i must say that i found this not only hypocritical but hypercritical. you can make the same statements about writing/ranting to blogs like this. i understand what you’re saying and why you’re saying it but stomping on what others find joy in with a disillusioned cynicism from your loss of confidence in your photography is probably not the best way to approach it. i suggest an inward look at WHY others’ satisfaction in snapping photos annoys you instead of pushing the fault on everyone else.

      • amateur

        Yeah, I agree. Theres something to be said about living in the moment and stepping out from behind the viewfinder when you’re at the MOMA, but I hate this attitude of belittling others for wanting to take photos of things, of dreaming of being Annie Leibovitz.

        Everyone starts somewhere. Every great artist was terrible once and they didn’t get to where they were by deciding “OH WELL, guess that just isn’t for me!”

        It’s the same thing when people criticize aspiring musicians for not being terribly good, or amateur writers for their mediocre or bad poetry or prose.

        You’re right in that this kind of attitude is totally inappropriate on thought catalogue, of all places.

      • amateur

        Yeah, I agree. Theres something to be said about living in the moment and stepping out from behind the viewfinder when you’re at the MOMA, but I hate this attitude of belittling others for wanting to take photos of things, of dreaming of being Annie Leibovitz.

        Everyone starts somewhere. Every great artist was terrible once and they didn’t get to where they were by deciding “OH WELL, guess that just isn’t for me!”

        It’s the same thing when people criticize aspiring musicians for not being terribly good, or amateur writers for their mediocre or bad poetry or prose.

        You’re right in that this kind of attitude is totally inappropriate on thought catalogue, of all places.

      • amateur

        Yeah, I agree. Theres something to be said about living in the moment and stepping out from behind the viewfinder when you’re at the MOMA, but I hate this attitude of belittling others for wanting to take photos of things, of dreaming of being Annie Leibovitz.

        Everyone starts somewhere. Every great artist was terrible once and they didn’t get to where they were by deciding “OH WELL, guess that just isn’t for me!”

        It’s the same thing when people criticize aspiring musicians for not being terribly good, or amateur writers for their mediocre or bad poetry or prose.

        You’re right in that this kind of attitude is totally inappropriate on thought catalogue, of all places.

        • Justine Johnson

          i don’t think it’s inappropriate, i’m just saying that the same argument can be made about writing to blogs like thought catalog: “why do this when you can do that?”/”why bitch about others when you can just accept it?”

    • Anonymous

      Sometimes I take pictures of pieces in museums because 1. it echoes with something I am working on and I want to keep the slice of an idea alive or 2. I have a terrible memory and can’t reflect back on it unless I have something to remind me a bit of it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612928768 Samie Rose

      Too many long comments. I’ll keep this short and sweet:

      This was douchey.

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