Saturday, February 28, 2015

Collecting Cities

Kim and I were at it again! It was 2007 and I was studying abroad in Zurich. We decided that we would commence another European Adventure together so we met in Madrid to explore Spain and Portugal.

Photo Credit to Kim

Between the two of us we snapped a thousand photos. We took pictures constantly. It became compulsive by the end of the trip. I was fixated on the notion that if anything caught my attention I needed to capture it immediately and keep it for all time. No detail escaped my lens, no meal was left documented.  

Photo Credit to Kim- Barcelona, Spain

On the second to last day of our trip we split up. Kim didn't mind riding overnight in the crowded, sitting car in the back of the train. I was still exhausted from our first attempt at sitting up on the overnight train, so I paid the extra cash and got myself a bed for the night. I shared a room with 3 quiet backpackers and enjoyed a decent night of sleep, rocking back and forth over the Spanish countryside. When we arrived in Madrid, we hastily jumped the gun and got off a few stops too soon. In our rush, I did not check my bed to be sure I grabbed all my belongings. 

Photo Credit to Kim- Sagovia, Spain

As the train zoomed away in the distance, I stood on the underground platform and began to cry. I suddenly felt naked, like something REALLY important was missing. I started dumping out my bag and pulling out pockets. My gestures were futile, I left my camera on the train. Two weeks of photos were gone in an instant. 

Photo Credit to Kim- Madrid Palace

Kim felt terribly for me and reminded me that she took plenty of photos and she would share all of them with me. I knew that was true, but I could not deny the loss that I felt. All those interesting angles, all the images I wanted to be the keep, the poses, the cumulative hours I spent setting up the perfect shots...gone. Not to mention that I had another trip back to back with this one that I wanted to document. I was a college student, I couldn't afford to buy a new camera! I couldn't afford the one I lost which was a gift from my Aunt.

Photo Credit to Kim- Lisbon, Portugal

When I pulled myself together enough to leave the station. I was curious to find that I was feeling lighter and lighter with each step I took towards the brightness of day at the top of the stairs. By the time we walked into the first restaurant we could find, I was feeling free. We sat down and ordered a pitcher of fresh Sangria and split a huge pan of Paella. It was a feast and we celebrated the unbelievable two weeks we spent together. I only thought about my camera a little bit.

We parted ways later that night and I flew to France to meet two more friends who wanted to travel in the South for a couple weeks. During that time, I experienced what it was like to travel without a camera. Standing awe-struck under the Eiffel Tower, I saw things I missed before. It was grander and closer than I remembered it through my photos. Walking the shores of Nice, I enjoyed long lingering stares taking in the whole coastline uninhibited. My hands were free to touch the sand, the rocks, the earth, and the food I wanted to discover. I was exonerated from this strange burden. 

Photo Credit to Julia- Nice, France

My hands were free, my eyes were free, but more importantly, my mind was free. I realized that as soon as the camera was in my possession I was possessed by an irrational desire to capture the world around me. Everything I saw was just a picture I needed to take instead of a unique moment in time that I will not ever get to experience this way again. I felt alive, real. I watched my friends scurry to capture a sunset, missing most of it as they dug through their purses to find their cameras, and I wondered why did I ever live like this?

Photo Credit to Julia- Nice, France

I thought back to all my adventures from the years before and with some discomfort, I realized that I saw most of the Grand Cities of Europe through the lens of my camera. I was trying to capture them all and keep them. Somehow, I thought I could experience them the same way when I looked at the photos, but it doesn't work like that. My photos are 2D reminders of a 3D experience that I did not live into. 

Photo Credit to Julia- Nice, France "Feeling Free"

Remembering that experience, I wonder if I subconsciously left my camera on the train. 

Today, I still travel and I still take lots of photos, but I learned a very important lesson that Spring. I don't photograph the world like I used to, I experience it.