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Vail Daily travel column: Lose the camera, live in the moment

Leigh Horton
Special to the Daily
Visitors document Michelangelo’s David in Florence.
Leigh Horton | Special to the Daily |

Editor’s note: This is the second column in a series from Leigh Horton, who is traveling through Europe this fall. Visit http://www.vaildaily.com to read the first installment.

I perfected the Viennese Waltz in Florence, in the Piazza called the Duomo. The half turns, small back steps and elegant gliding were flawlessly executed to avoid photobombing fellow tourists.



But my dancing feet are tired, and I plead with my comrades: lose the camera, iPad, iPhone, selfie stick, video camera or whatever is hanging from your neck waiting to be harvested by a pickpocket. Travel is to be lived in the moment.

Cameras promote education and allow us to remember experiences with friends and family. Journalists capture injustices that awaken empathy and open wallets to mitigate devastating events. They record amazing human achievements such as the first lunar landing (take a seat, conspiracy theorists). They record meaningful life events such as weddings, graduations, and first steps.



But cameras are being misused, and the masses are crowding, shouting and blocking the streets!

TO TAKE PICTURES



The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence is stunning, one of the most photographed buildings in the city. People lay in the streets to catch the perfect angle of the first dome built without wood scaffolding. I visited a nearby café to watch the mosaic gilding glow in the setting sun while enjoying a spritz. While I was enjoying the moment, a man sprawled on the cobbles, iPad held high, and photographed the dome for close to five minutes.

I feel a momentary pang of guilt. I could take a picture for those back home, but I justify to myself that it isn’t the same as them being here. The gold fades, the statues blur, and people who see my photos can’t feel the sun on their backs or taste the sharpness of Campari.

Used improperly, cameras can risk diminishing our humanity. (Professional photographers are exempt from this generality because they take pictures with purpose and invest themselves in their art.) Average photographers, such as myself, reduce our empathy by removing ourselves from the reality in front of us as we erect the physical barrier of technology. Hiding behind our technological buffer, we can see historically important sites without feeling anything and thinking only about how to get the perfect shot.

We enter cathedrals, cameras poised to catch the glowing light from the stained glass, but we miss the intense awe the architects intended. We can look into former concentration camps without deeply registering the raw brutality, but we’ll get a picture our Instagram followers will love! We take pictures of child beggars without looking into their eyes, but we’ll be able to bury the image in our computer archives and barely remember where it was taken years from now.

In seeing the world through technology, are we hiding from what is going on around us? Are we diluting our travel experiences and learning less? Let’s experiment next time — let’s leave the cameras and various technologies at home next time and really experience our travels.

Leigh Horton is a Colorado School of Mines alumna traveling through Europe before graduate school. Email comments about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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