by Carmel on June 23, 2013 · 33 comments

We went to a concert Thursday night, during which we dealt with a lot of little annoyances like people talking throughout the show and just generally not paying attention. At one point the man in front of me, who had been talking during the entire previous song, turned around and asked if the last song played had any words to it (it did) and whether or not I knew the song (of course). The odd thing about this question was that the band playing was performing an entire album from start to finish as a tribute to its thirteenth anniversary, which was why I foolishly thought everyone was there. Minutes later, during a little more upbeat song, the same man stopped talking, pulled out his iPhone and starting snapping pictures, as did a few other talkers in the audience.

The picture below is from the show. I snapped it, knowing it would turn out terribly, because my good friend who loves this particular band couldn’t be there and I wanted to let him know we missed him.


You can take a much better picture with a good phone nowadays, but does it matter?

For that man in front of me and the other talkers, it seemed to me they were there just to be there. Not to hear live music. Not to dance. Not to go out and experience something. But just to check another box off of some list of things Portlanders should do. What are the chances that a couple months from now, he’ll even know what band is in the picture?

Even this girl who was dancing throughout most of the show stopped to take a photo. She was having a great time, but stopped to try to capture the moment on her phone. I look back at the pictures I’ve tried to take with my phone, or even my camera, and without the skill and equipment necessary to adequately capture the image, it doesn’t do much to enhance my memory. Even when I’ve had the chance to buy a copy of a video of a live show I’ve been to, the video doesn’t match up to the experience I have in my head.

Are we trying too hard to collect memories rather than just making them?

I’m as guilty as the next person of taking time away from my experience to snap a picture of a beautiful sunset or piece of art, trying to capture a special moment. It seems like a good idea because we want to have something to reflect back on that brings us back to that place where we were so happy. As soon-to-be world travelers, I think this poses an important question. Are we doing this simply to check places to see off of a list? To be able to say we’ve been to all these important places? To have something to write about in a blog? I hope not. But we run the risk of this happening when we lose sight of the real reason we’re traveling. Brian over at Wandering Sasquatch wrote a great post about learning a lesson about this same thing while watching a sunrise in Nepal.

So, photography is useless? Certainly not. It serves a purpose – obviously as an art form, but also as a way of reminding us of a moment.

But what’s that reminder without the experience in the first place?


{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Maddie June 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm

I am such a shutter bug that I’m permanently attached to my camera but every time we visit somewhere or see something that I’m blown away by I make sure to just put it down for a few minutes. Take a deep breath and just enjoy! You have to let the memory of that experience fuse itself into your brain otherwise what’s the point in being there at all.

We saw a concert when travelling around the U.S last summer, had a fantastic night and even got to meet the band. I didn’t take my camera so have absolutely no photos but it’s one of the best nights we’ve had during the whole trip.
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Carmel June 24, 2013 at 7:16 am

I do love having pictures to reminisce later and once in awhile, I get a good shot. I just worry that I’m missing out on the actual experience when I try so hard to take the perfect shot. It’s hard to remember to just put the camera down and let the moment seep into your bones.

I really hope we get a chance to see some live music on the road!


Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) June 23, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Ugh. I hate people who go to concerts and then talk through them. We had this happen at a Feist concert, where we had paid a pretty penny for the tickets and also, most of the songs were so quiet & low-tempo that the drunken prattling of the trio of girls behind us definitely did nothing to enhance the atmosphere. After about 5 songs of this nonsense, I turned around during a break and snapped at them and asked them to take their conversation outside or save it for between songs. Seriously, some people are just so inconsiderate of others!

As for when to put the camera down, it’s definitely a delicate balance. I definitely believe we experience things differently when we’re trapped behind a viewfinder, so it’s really important to be able to recognize moments that won’t ever translate well to photos or are better simply enjoying in the moment, as fleeting as it might be. That said, when you’re traveling long-term and photos are your major souvenirs, I’d rather be in the camp of having slightly too many photos than too few!
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Carmel June 24, 2013 at 7:20 am

It’s annoying when people talk during a show when it’s a full band on stage. It’s downright rude when you can hear voices above the person with the mic who is singing. I’ve had that happen during more acoustic sets that I can even remember. Shawn told me that recently Thom Yorke had some words for some talkers during one of his acoustic sets. I just don’t get it. You pay all that money to go somewhere and talk? Really?

Definitely a balance. I’ve never had a great camera before, so I might have to try extra hard to remember now that we do have one.


Sarah Somewhere June 23, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Great point Carmel, one I have definitely thought alot about myself. I’m finally at the stage of being comfortable with capturing what I can, with what I’ve got (phone, camera, memory etc), but not making it the sole focus. I must admit, as a writer, I often approach life as a ‘story to be written’ but 99% of my imagined stories never see the light of day, so I accept it’s just the way my mind works! Sometimes it’s nice to be camera and phone free, and just experience life as it comes. All those little ‘in between’ moments that never make it onto a blog or facebook page are sometimes the most special 🙂
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Carmel June 24, 2013 at 7:21 am

Funny that you mention that because I was sitting there at that show, trying to not be too annoyed, and thought, “I can use this as a story for Facebook…wait, no, I think I have a post in mind…” Which kind of annoys me too. It’s hard to get out of that mindset!


Kim June 23, 2013 at 10:34 pm

I agree! There are times when I get caught up in taking pictures but then when I set the camera down I realize I’m really “seeing” something. It’s crazy how much you can miss, and how you can hide, behind the lens. Good lesson.


Carmel June 24, 2013 at 7:22 am

Thanks, dear! Now to see if I can live by my own advice…


Rhonda June 24, 2013 at 7:26 am

Very true… there have been times in my travels when I’ve cursed myself for forgetting the camera or letting the battery die when, in fact, those moments became the most magical because I focused entirely on the experience, rather than on trying to get that perfect shot. As important as my pictures are to me, and for our blog, sometimes it is good to just be in the moment instead of trying to capture it.
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Carmel June 24, 2013 at 7:29 am

Funny that we are usually forced into that situation rather than choosing to put down the technology. 🙂 But most of us are bloggers, so we’re always kind of thinking about it!


Ali June 24, 2013 at 9:52 am

I do really enjoy taking pictures as I travel, but I know what you mean. Traveling simply to check things off a list isn’t the right reason to travel. Though I have been guilty of that as well! The more I travel, the less I care about checking off specific places, and the places I still say I want to go to usually aren’t for a specific reason, it’s just because it’s there. I much prefer to just BE somewhere rather than run around sightseeing and doing all the “must do” things. It’s tough though. I just took a tour of the Roman Forum and Colosseum today, and even though it’s a typical touristy thing to do in Rome, it’s also fascinating to see and hear all that history.

Ok, I might be rambling completely off topic now! But yes, I completely agree, it’s all about the experiences!
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Carmel June 24, 2013 at 11:36 am

I agree, Ali. I still loved the Eiffel Tower even though it’s the ultimate in touristy things to do in Paris. Who cares as long as you’re enjoying it? You’re not hurting anyone 🙂

I think with a limited time to travel, we run the risk of jumping around too fast and just checking things off, but we’ve learned a little from our fellow bloggers that it’s more enjoyable to take your time. Another big part of the experience.


John Williams June 24, 2013 at 11:22 am

Carmel, you are asking some important questions about your travel. Visiting places to tick off a list or to brag about on Social media are vacuous experiences.
I think the fact that you have a blog will mean you take more photos. Photography if taken seriously does cause you to stop and look for the beauty in a scene and perhaps wait a little longer for just the right light. But most of all if you do take photos, then enjoy the process and try to produce something that you can bring enjoyment to others.
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Carmel June 24, 2013 at 11:39 am

Absolutely…I think my family would kill me if I didn’t share pictures of where we’re going to go!

That’s a great point about waiting for just the right photo and light. There’s definitely some opportunity to slow down and take a good picture, rather than just a picture. Thanks for your insight!


Hannah June 25, 2013 at 2:49 am

This is such a good point, and one I often think about. I tried to set the rule that I would never go out without my camera, but fail miserably at this, and now I often find that even if I do have it, it’s Lee who prompts me to actually use it. That being said, when I’m in the right mood, taking photos can really force me to search out the tiny details I might not have otherwise noticed. There are positives and negatives on both sides, so I guess all we can do is be aware, and go with what feels right in the moment 🙂
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Carmel June 25, 2013 at 11:47 am

I absolutely agree. I didn’t want to come off too negative against photography. Like Steph said earlier, they are the best free souvenirs and way more special than anything you can buy. But you do run the risk of taking the shot and walking away. Or some variation of that. Like anything in life, it takes balance.


Kellie June 25, 2013 at 4:54 am

This is somehting that has often bothered me when at a concert. It was initally because as a ‘virtically challenged’ individual when people take pictures on thier phone it makes them even taller and gives me even less chance of seeing anything! I think there should be a height order rule, like with school photographs, smallest at the front.

But seriously, I have also often wondered why people spend thier time looking through a lens, either at a concert or somewhere of secenic beauty instead of just enjoying the moment. I’m also guilty of this but after reading this, I will make more of an effort to just sit back and enjoy.
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Carmel June 25, 2013 at 11:49 am

I’m tall-ish, but I have this terrible curse of tall people standing right in front of me. I don’t mean like a couple feet in front of me just blocking my view. I’m talking mere inches from my face. It happened last week, too. Luckily there was some room to move around.


Tyrhone June 25, 2013 at 8:36 am

So true! I often find myself snapping a photo of a sunset, or a concert, or a beach and then realize I am not even acknowledging the moment itself. This has happened fairly often during our travels over the last year or so, and is surprisingly hard to switch off. I know that the images will serve very little purpose and that if it is for memories I only need one or two, yet for some reason that damn camera won’t leave my hand.
It is a difficult thing to do, the whole living in the moment, and something which has to be fought for I think
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Carmel June 25, 2013 at 11:51 am

I was reading another post earlier today in which the writer said something along the lines of it’s one of life’s greatest curses that we don’t appreciate something we’re looking back on it. I catch myself doing that “in the moment” as well. Sometimes when I’m at a concert, I can’t wait to get home and just rest my achy feet. Or if I’m hiking, I can’t wait to get to the point where we have lunch (I am often ruled by my stomach). And then I look back at my pictures and imagine some great time I had…but really I was already off in the future. Why is it so hard to live in the present?? Much like how many licks does it take to get the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

Wow, I really went off on a tangent there.


Brianna June 25, 2013 at 9:46 am

This is a great post! I hiked to a beautiful waterfall this weekend and my first thought was how beautiful and then let me take some pictures. I told myself no and to feel and watch the waterfall for a bit then take a photo. Ugh- it’s a tough habit to break. I always am thinking of the blog or Facebook or something when I witness a beautiful place. I think the key is balance. Snap a few and then relax and don’t think about it again.
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Carmel June 25, 2013 at 11:52 am

Maybe we should try giving ourselves a time or picture limit! Nah, I hate living by a set of rules, even if I made them up myself. I tend to rebel. Hopefully a bit of awareness will do us all some good. I need constant reminders.


Jimmy Dau June 25, 2013 at 11:42 am

I went to a concert once and the band had specifically requested no photos and security heavily monitored it and confiscated cameras. Although it’s now ingrained in our psych to take photos and share everything, I do believe the band that it takes away those special moments that only a live performance can deliver. Perhaps take photos during the first song but spend the rest of the show enjoying it for what it is
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Carmel June 25, 2013 at 11:54 am

Yes! My 17 year old self is totally throwing out some curse words right now, though. I used to looooove taking pictures at concerts and would get so pissed when the band said no pictures. But that was 1997 and cell phones didn’t have cameras. Hell, hardly anyone even had a cell phone. Now I can completely understand and support that idea.


Charlie June 25, 2013 at 1:53 pm

The people who rush through life from experience to experience, only stopping for enough time to snap a shot on their mobile, aren’t really doing it for the experience. Since, I’m sure, you’re not leaving to travel the world just to cross things off the list, I’m sure you’ll find it easy to find a balance between taking photos that you’ll treasure in future and actually experiencing, because the real reason you’re going is the experience!

Personally, I think if you really care about the outcome of your photo, it actually helps you to look closer at the world around you and experience at a deeper level. I won’t lie though, at times, I certainly have to remind myself to stop living through a camera lens! Really interesting post.
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Carmel June 25, 2013 at 6:09 pm

It would be interesting to do an experiment of taking a photo when you first get to a place, spending say 10 minutes there and then taking the same photo to see if anything changed in your perspective. Just in what you see from time to time. I might have to try that.


Jill June 25, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Hi Carmel, I love your post. I stopped ‘trying’ to take photos some time ago so I can just enjoy the moment. Just last week we went swimming with Whale Sharks and I didnt take photos on the first swim as I wanted to enjoy it. Then on the second I took some happy snaps of others and the whale shark. But as soon as I got back on the boat, I put the camera away as I just wanted to enjoying the experience. That is the memory that is going to last forever in my heart – the feeling of peaceful swimming next to the biggest fish/shark in the sea.


Carmel June 28, 2013 at 8:55 pm

That would be really hard! But what a great thing to really take a step back from and enjoy. I try to remember to stop for a moment when experiencing something really special and close my eyes to truly appreciate it. Remembering to do it is The hard part!


Travelling Mudskippers July 10, 2013 at 10:37 am

Hi Carmel & Shawn,
We have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award: because we are enjoying your blog and we have appreciated your supportive comments on ours. Thanks and Enjoy!
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Peter Korchnak July 26, 2013 at 5:35 am

It depends on your purpose, I think. Trekking through the High Tatras, Slovakia, we kept running into a man in his 50’s taking at every turn of the path. Finally I asked him what he was going to do with the photos and he said he’d pick the best ones and put them up on his computer as a screensaver, so that, he said, “they give me joy all year long.” At the Depeche Mode concert earlier this week I made a point of snapping one photo during every song for our travel blog. I loved the show; only one photo turned out decent (it’s on Facebook and will be up on the blog soon).

As several people have already pointed out, it’s about balance. Snapping photos without purpose is pointless; forgetting to take any photos even when you plan to write about the experience is frustrating. An artist friend once told me, “It’s not art until it’s documented.”

What was the band you saw?
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Carmel July 26, 2013 at 6:59 am

I can completely understand (already!) about the frustration of forgetting to take a photo (see: picture of Shawn & Candace, from The Great Affair, on our Facebook page…crappy cell phone picture that’s all orange).

We saw the Dandy Warhols.

Concert pictures are such a funny thing. For the most part, it’s hard to get a good shot with just a cell phone, and in the meantime, some people get really cranky about you doing it. Again, all about the balance.

Steph from 20 Years Hence wrote a great post about the flip side to this idea of when photography really can help you slow down and observe. It’s great – you should check it out!


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