Picture Perfect

Do you know what it’s like, to go to a foreign country, that everyone has exclaimed and gasped about, and to not remember anything substantial from the trip? I have. Every year I go to a music festival in Europe. Two summers ago, I went to Barcelona. I remember my teachers all saying how absolutely wonderful and astonishing the architecture was, so as usual I checked out a couple of books about landmark buildings there. When our tour bus arrived at a home the famous architect Gaudi designed, I just remember thinking, I’ve got to take the best pictures- everyone will want to know about the special features of the building. So I took my camera and race walked through the courtyards, the halls, and the staircases. Honestly though, I don’t remember much else. According to my pictures, though, the courtyards were majestic, with stained glass in turquoise and green, the halls were filled with gleaming mosaics, colors splashed everywhere, and the staircases were splendid, with all different shades of light playing across the quirky design. When my friends asked, what was it like? What did you think about the artwork? My mind drew a blank.

So when this summer came around, and I was accepted into a summer festival in Italy, I wasn’t too excited for the tour around Florence. Jaded by my experience in Spain, I thought that if everyone had such high expectations for a place I found had absolutely no impression on me, then why would Florence be any different? The only problem though, was when I arrived at the museum that housed most of the great sculptor Michelangelo’s art, a stern-looking Italian guard admonished me in a very abrupt voice, “No photos”. I was completely shocked. The greatest sculpture of all time, and they didn’t want me to take pictures? How else was I going to admire it, just by LOOKING?

But as I sat against a marble column, lost in the crowd of humming, shifting, chatting tourists, I really began to see. Not through the lens of my camera, with my brain going at awesome speeds trying to decide the best perspective for a perfect shot. Not through the eyes of a race walking tourist, trying to make it through the entire exhibition at the quickest possible speed, while passing all the artwork so fast it looked like a blur. Not through the eyes of a frantic, picture-snapping girl, taking photos of everything in order to make it through the last red EXIT sign and be able to proclaim with a sigh, that I had seen all the art in just under half an hour, and that the exhibit had been waaaay too long, and hardly interesting. I began to see, and appreciate it, as me. For once, my mind was quiet, but the good kind of quiet, like after waking up, and everything being peaceful for once. I began to appreciate the grand magnificence of the David, the awe-inspiring fact that it had been carved from a single piece of marble, and note the tiny details that made it so special. I realized that no picture I took would be able to really capture the beauty of Florence, the experiences I’d had, and the sense of awe looking up at Michelangelo’s David. By taking pictures of my travels, I had prevented myself from experiencing the personal and emotional aura that so naturally emanates from these masterpieces. When I returned home and all my friends asked how Italy was, I was able to describe to them the sights, the smells, and the sounds, of the boisterous restaurants, the quaint mismatched houses, and the overabundance of marble statues. And I didn’t need to scroll back through my camera’s pictures once.

Now, I only take pictures of the most awe-inspiring, the most interesting, or the most unusual objects. As Joan Rivers once said, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift – that is why we call it the present “. I am no longer afraid of forgetting my experiences, because I know that I won’t really be able to experience life if I dissect and critically analyze it through the lens of a camera. What’s the use of being obsessed with preserving the present, just to remember it in the future? At some point in the future, I don’t want a collection of photos to be the only thing I have left of my journey. Which raises the question: why even go at all? Just study some pictures. Even if some particular details fade away, or I don’t remember exactly who was there or its precise location, the experience will always be alive. I seek new experiences to get great pictures, I live my experiences and the pictures form themselves.

Stella Wong
Age 16, Grade 12
Hunter College High School
Silver Key

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