They zombied through the Hagia Sophia. They sleep-walked around the Blue Mosque. They dribbled into the Topkapi Palace. The snapping dead had invaded Istanbul.
Cameras glued to their faces, they swarmed over the old Sultanahmet quarter in the summer heat, blizzarding images onto their memory cards and strafing Byzantine mosaics with auto flash.
To the casual observer, they appeared alive, but a closer inspection revealed the horrible truth: their brains were unfurrowed by even a passing thought. They had become slaves to their cameras, walking tripods, image junkies. And they kept getting in my bloody way.
Am I being a snob? Do forgive me. Photography is, of course, a wonderful hobby. The artful mix of light and shadow; the tantalising question of which f-stop to select; the smug glow of your own scrolly lightbox on Flickr, just like the pros. But for Cartier-Bresson’s sake, every once in a while, put it away.
First off, it’s a public nuisance. Now that no moment of a trip can go unphotographed, every day becomes an obstacle course. Arterial clots of humanity bung every historic doorway. Lone lensmen reverse into you as you stroll across a plaza. And God forbid you impede the view of any passing wildlife – you are simply collateral damage, smashed aside by a blitzkrieg of superzooms.
Second, it’s insulting. In Istanbul, I saw a man jam his monstrous lens into a huddle of Muslim schoolgirls. I saw a student poke her HotShot MegaPix 570 (or whatever) round the corner of a 1,000-year-old chamber she couldn’t be bothered to walk into herself. I saw another chap kneel on the floor of the Blue Mosque and gigglingly pretend to pray, while his girlfriend took photos. Something weird and sad happens to normal people when they get a camera in their hands.
Third, it’s soulless. Here we are, in the heart of the Ottoman empire (or the African savannah, or the South Pole – paint your own picture). We are witnesses to something beautiful, resonant, profound, subtle. But are we allowed, just for a minute, to luxuriate in this touch of the sublime, to consider its meaning or its magic? Nope – because all around is the mindless chatter of shutter releases.
And where do all these pictures go? A few of you and your friends on holiday – fair enough. An arty photo of a minaret at sunset – understandable. But those 20 grey shots of the mosque’s ceiling – which, by the way, is approximately ten times beyond the reach of your puny flash – where are they going to live? Which poor sod will be press-ganged into viewing that life-sapping slideshow? What data warehouse is big enough to store all that banality?
So, you serial clickers, do indulge your pastime. Train your eye; obey the rule of thirds; enter photo competitions (like ours). But one day, try not taking your camera. Try just looking and thinking instead. You might just feel a bit more alive.
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