A Search for More Balanced Travel Photography without my iPhone
By Jared Shein
My phone broke in March. This wasn’t a big issue for me as I rarely take photographs in my day to day life, but it started to become one as I began to finalize my summer plans.
After school ended I was going to Peru with my dad, followed by an internship abroad, and then a pacific northwest road trip with some friends. I didn’t want to spend money to have my phone fixed, and I didn’t have a backup camera so I would have no way of taking pictures on any of these upcoming trips. What would it be like traveling without a camera?
I landed in Cusco, Peru at the beginning of the summer with my dad and my broken phone. On our second day there we went to see the remains of Urubamba. The ancient ruins were breathtaking, but what really caught my eye wasn’t the stones or the trees, but the phones.
They were everywhere.
The stone steps were covered in tourists with smartphones and selfie sticks taking picture after picture of themselves, the ruins, the mountains, themselves with the ruins, themselves with the mountains, the ruins with the mountains and everything in between.
It seemed like no one was paying any attention to what was actually going on.
I’ve been on trips in the past and taken plenty of pictures, and always thought of these pictures as good things.
They allow us to remember the times we’ve had and the places we’ve been, but more recently travel photographs have begun to bear a negative connotation in my eyes.
Instead of taking the photos for oneself to remember, most people now take photos to try and show off to others (and themselves) how great of a time they’re having. Traveling without a camera gave me the ability to see the whole picture better.
Traveling without a camera to Machu Picchu
The next day we started a trek along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. We hiked up and down mountains, through valleys and by rivers. We saw animals and people, houses, and lakes; some of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. And I took it all in. In the first person. I didn’t take one photo.
Unfortunately for me, the next part of my summer didn’t go nearly as well. My internship was boring, and I often found myself sitting in my apartment thinking back to the beauty of Peru. I wanted to once again feel the freedom and beauty, but without any photos, I couldn’t.
The scale began to tip back in my mind. I thought about getting my phone fixed and using it to take a limited number of pictures on my upcoming trip.
I stewed over the idea but it didn’t seem right to me. I got home from my internship and did many things to prepare for my road trip; getting my phone fixed was not one of them.
At the end of August, I took my backpack and flew to San Francisco to meet my friends. We all piled into a rented Honda Odyssey and started driving south through California, past Sacramento and into the desert of Nevada.
It was a strange place. Never-ending flat land with no civilization for miles. We stopped at a gas station and it was so quiet. You never really notice how noisy everyday life is until the noise is gone. All we could hear was the wind and the occasional passing car.
The desert was so barren. I wanted to take a picture.
We drove onward to Reno, spent the night and then headed on towards Yellowstone. We drove through Idaho, saw a rodeo and stopped at a campsite for the night.
There was a lake at the campsite and we went for a swim. There were birds and trees and the sun had begun to set when I saw my friend take a little green box out of his pocket.
I heard a snap.
I hadn’t seen a disposable camera in years and thought it was silly for him to be using one, but I soon realized that he was on to something. Disposable cameras are a good way to take photos while limiting the amount you can take. They allow you to take photos with which to remember the trip, but these photos would have to be few and precious.
I bought a disposable camera the next day. I took it out of the box and mistakenly tore off the green cardboard. I spun the little wheel and took my first photo of the summer.
There was some nice farmland with mountains in the background. It felt good to know I would remember that place. It also felt good to not be deciding whether or not I wanted to take more pictures. It felt nice to not look at my phone.
We continued on to Seattle, and then Vancouver Island. We had planned on going backpacking, but forest fires in the area had made that impossible. Amid smoky skies, we changed our plans and took a ferry to Salt Spring Island where we stayed in a cottage on a farm.
We then took a ferry back to Van, drove back to Seattle, unpacked the car and I went home.
I started school the next week and went to develop my photos at the local CVS. Two weeks later (they don’t develop photos in house anymore, so it took two weeks) the pictures came, and they were great.
Not only was the disposable camera great for my peace of mind, but the pictures had a nice retro feel. I also love how not all of them came out.
If you can’t take a ton of pictures, the ones you take mean so much more. If they don’t all come out, you appreciate the ones that do.
The disposable camera isn’t perfect though. The attraction of the smartphone and digital camera lies in their convenience. With them, you can take as many photos as you want (and see them instantly), and this convenience is good.
New convenient inventions can be fun and enjoyable, but it is easy for them to get in the way of more meaningful alternatives. Buying pre-made food from the supermarket is much more convenient, but there is something special about cooking a meal from scratch.
Paying landscapers to deck out your yard is convenient, but it won’t give you the same satisfaction as growing a garden yourself. I’m not saying that we should make every meal from scratch, or grow every plant ourselves, but I think our current photography habits are akin to eating microwave dinners and fast food for every meal.
I’m going to Argentina with my dad this coming March. I still haven’t gotten my phone fixed.
Jared has traveled to many places in the US and the world including Argentina, Panama, Thailand, Israel, and Ethiopia. He enjoys sightseeing, hiking, and other traveling activities, but he also enjoys the space for contemplation that being on the road offers. In his free time, he likes to read, play sports and bake bread.