10 years ago I read Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light
. An amazing landscape photographer, Galen wrote a serious of books on both photography and the process and people behind it. One section of Mountain Light in particular has stuck with me. After he’s traveled and photographed a new area, he’ll show the locals his work and almost always get the same response: “no, that’s not quite what it looks like”. Flipping through his photos, when the nee plus ultra photo comes up, the idylic, beyond perfection photo, THAT’s the one that looks right! Yes, he captured it correctly!
Barring philosophical discussion on the real world, it appears we all walk around with idealized models of our world. Yes, that mountain is pretty, but these average photos aren’t the real mountain It’s only when we see the most spectacular and perfect images possible to capture that they align with our mental model. Galen constantly ran into this. One of the best photographers of the late 20th century, and only occasionally could he capture something that came close the idealized picture we all carry around.
I’ve found this concept - that we carry around in our head only the best of the best, the real world not always living up - one that constantly pops up during travel. It’s impossible for me NOT to compare each and everything I see, do, eat, experience with the best elsewhere. Photographs are always a pale representation of the place itself. Drivers honk 3x more in India vs. Vietnam. Cambodian ruins are young compared with Egyptian temples. This street market is tiny vs that one in Shanghai. etc.
It’s hard not to digress into some odd places – why do we take vacation? What are we looking for that spending thousands of dollars in far flung places provides? As a great photographer like Galen did, or a mediocre one such as myself attempts, I keep trying to see what’s in front of me, appreciate the light I’m seeing now, capture and lock away the best of the best for reflection and enjoyment later.