Say what you will about writers, but I’m skeptical of the average photographer.
For sharing memories of vacations, pictures are obviously great. But as far as an accurate account of traveling, I don’t put much stock in photography. Pictures from trips are used to whitewash over what actually happened. A lackluster night at a pub is turned into a piece of revisionist history when the flash of a camera captures people faking smiles and hugs. No pictures are taken of the overpriced beer or unfriendly crowd. Even I’m slightly guilty of this. I arrived in Warsaw fresh from a night sleeping on McDonald’s bench in Milan’s airport. Instead of snapping photos of my bloodshot eyes and crooked back (Italy really did me in), I slipped on sunglasses, put on a superficial grin and asked a stranger to take a picture of me in front of a monument.
That’s not to say I want to focus on bad times in my journeys. Frankly, those have been few and far between because backpacking around Europe has been such an incredible experience. Not to mention, happy subjects are more photogenic. Yet when trips become only a series of highs – only documenting what’s pretty and shiny – no wonder people think home is so bland. Maybe traveling isn’t the only time we do this. With the camera lens as a weapon of distortion, anything that’s negative is replaced by a more convenient version of reality, only compounding a manic nostalgia that leads to being stuck in a past that never actually existed. For me, the truth – or at least the closest I can get to it – only comes out when I’m typing (well, with the exception of a few humor articles I took liberties with for The Daily Aztec a few years back, but that’s another story). Photography isn’t a reliable means of remembering a trip, or so I thought.
Enter Jenn of Amsterdam fame. We met up in Warsaw. Just like in Amsterdam, we primarily spent time in parks (I swear she has an internal divining rod that locates large clusters of trees). Seeing the city through the eyes of a someone who’s passionate about photography, picture taking was redeemed in my mind. Jenn photographed everything – both beautiful and ugly. The parts of Warsaw that go unnoticed by most showed up on her camera roll. Bright, rickety fences, patches of graffiti on dilapidated walls, the reflection of clouds on a glass building – nothing got by her snapping finger. Like a good writer, she left nothing out and made the mundane interesting by dressing it up with interesting angles and attention to detail. I’m coming around to the idea that photographs can tell a credible story.
With the exception of the pictures of her holding an umbrella (I took those), Jenn took the above shots while we were wandering around. I wanted to include more, but I’m having a difficult time uploading them.