Most people, when they walk into our dining room for the first time, have a “wow!” moment when they look at the large canvas picture hanging on the biggest wall.
It’s 1.5m by 1m and is of the mountains of the Camdeboo in the Eastern Cape. In hues of grey, green and blue, the mountains are majestic and, because of the scale of the picture, one can almost taste the space, the freedom, the peace. And if you look closely, you can see two rhino, like plastic, toy farmyard animals.
That talking-point piece of art (I like to think it is, anyway) cost me just R900, which is what a company charged to print one of my photographs on canvas and then mount it on a wooden frame.
The Camdeboo portrait came to mind when I was discussing with a colleague the current fad (and it is a passing one, trust me) for travellers to place detailed image records of their trips on Instagram.
It is easy to do and provides a place to store your precious memories. Most importantly, for many people it is a place to show off: look where I’ve been, look how lucky/clever/rich I am …
That is why so many of the photographs posted on Instagram are selfies or are of picturesque places ruined by the presence of people.
I do realise that, in tourism these days, there are few places which are free of human beings at any time of the year and I admit my background as a newspaper reporter and photographer is based on the principle “You are not the story” … but I still think that when you are visiting a new and impressive place, you owe it to that place to record it in an as untainted way as possible.
But the real reason I worry about Instagram is that, like other forms of social media, it is nothing more than intellectual candy floss – tasty to start with, addictive, but ultimately of little long-lasting value.
With digital cameras and the internet, we who travel are already recording and preserving far too many images. Inasmuch as “holiday photos” tend to bore those who were not there, so too will an excess of your own images soon start to bore you and to lose their power to evoke a memory.
And that is what travel is all about: experiencing new places, new food, new people … making lifetime memories in the process. Too many images equals too much clutter and memories don’t thrive in clutter.
Besides, even as a photographer who tries to discipline himself into shooting as few frames as possible, I still find I miss out on many experiences with my eye to the camera viewfinder.
So, if you are going to travel, remember that less is more when it comes to preserving those standout moments. Post them on Instagram if you will, but think about printing them out and putting them on your walls, as things of beauty and of reminders of special times.
We’re about to put up some of the photos on this page – the Botswana elephant sunset and the Malachite Kingfisher – on the walls of our recently revamped kitchen.
We spend more time in there than on Instagram …