Shutter clicks: A review of the photographic record of my trip

It was John Urry who said that “travel is a strategy for the accummulation of photographs”  (1990, p.139).

Indeed, it seems that during travel my photographic activity did dramatically increase, and, after 3 months I am left with a pile much larger than that which I would collect in the same period of daily life.  With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to look through the photographic record of the trip that exists in the memory of my personal photographic devices (camera and smartphone). The purpose of this activity being to gain a broad overview of my travel image taking (i.e. the amount and type of photos I took), in order to develop a better idea of what I thought was photoworthy during my trip and the process through which I took travel photographs.

The first step was to calculate the total number of travel photos (i.e. any image created within the period of my travel) in each device memory. The Iphone 6 is quite a thoughtful technology in this respect, its geotagging technology allows one to see on a map where they took photos and how many they took. Scroll in and this information gets more detailed as one is able to go from country to region to city/suburb. This is quite a time saver. After a little tallying, I found I had 844 images from the trip on my phone. The two SD cards from my 7700 Nikon Coolpix, would, however, require a more manual analysis. On these I found, 564 trip items (i.e. photo and video), thus making a grand total of 1408 clicks of the shutter.

The second step was a content analysis of my photographs in which they were grouped according to the main subject, or, the purpose with which a photo was taken (as I am analysing my own photographs, I can remember the intention with which each was taken). By personal practice or perhaps because I have copius free memory available on my Iphone and SD cards, I don’t often delete photos after I take them and so I have an almost complete photo record of my trip.


Results:

  Phone Camera Total
Landscape 308 218 526
Travel companion 381 57 438
Critical Blog 60 144 204
Travel blog 18 89 107
Information 84 7 91
Me and travel companion 79 3 82
Video 31 5 36
Me 24 0 24
  1408
Doubles 237 96 333

Photos of the landscape: (Phone: 308 + Camera: 218) = 526
This includes any photos of the foreign landscape (without myself and my travel companion) that weren’t taken for my blogs. These feature things like scenic views, food, signs, animals, and accidental photographs which are blurred or without an obvious subject. A small percentage of these were uploaded online (around 5%).

Photos of my travel companion: (P 381 + C 57) = 438
These are any photos in which my wife is present, excluding, however, those in which we both are present.

Photos for my critical blog: (P 60 + C 144) = 204
The purpose of this blog you are reading now is to reflect on how connectivity affects the practice of recording travel. Part of the process of this reflection was observing Internet connections in the places I visited and the way these were utilised by travellers. This included taking a number of pictures to support my observations, some of which were uploaded to this blog.

Photos for my travel blog: (P 18 + c 89) = 107
I have a somewhat unique blog in which I draw a sketch of the day and then photograph this sketch and upload it on Tumblr. As lighting is quite important for achieving a good result here, sometimes I may photograph the same sketch multiple times.

Photographs of information = (P 84 + C 7) = 91
These are photos which include some kind of information which would prove useful later on in the trip. This is things like screenshots of timetables, contact information and online advertisements taken on my phone. It also includes photos of maps, Google driving routes and landmarks used for navigation.

Photos of me and my travel companion: (P 79 + C 3) = 82

Videos: (P 31+ C 5) = 36

Photos of me= (P 24) = 24
Where I am present only.

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A final category here is ‘doubles’, that is, photos which were taken in close succession and in which the framing is almost exactly the same but in which the position of the subject may differ slightly. This was found to be 333 photos in total (P 237 + C 96), or about 1/5 of my total. Here, one photo from each set of doubles was not counted (i.e. 7 near identical shots would be counted as 6).

Reflections on the data:

> In total I took about two thirds of my pictures with my phone, this percentage would likely be even larger, however, I left my phone in a hotel room and didn’t have it for a month (4/28 – 5/24). As my phone is compact and has more than one function, I found it easy to carry around with me.

> For photos which I knew I was going to publish on my social networks, I tended to use my camera which takes higher quality pictures. Conversely, I used my phone, which is more portable, for candid pictures of the landscape, my travel companion or information useful to the journey.

>  My wife is featured in a large number of photographs as I felt like I had an opportunity to help her remember the trip fondly by doing this. Conversely, I know my wife took a substantial number of shots of me as well.

> Only about 10% of the photographs taken contain myself and only a very small percentage (2%) contain me only. Perhaps as I knew my wife was taking photos of/for me.

> About ¼ of my photos were of subjects featured in my blogs.

> The daily average is 14.08 shutter clicks. This pattern was not, however, evenly distributed with some days having no photographs and around 100.

> Videos were extended slices of the landscape, intended to capture atmospheric details like background noises or the full panorama of a chosen location.

> ‘Doubles’ are, I think, a fairly new travel photography practice which has been brought about by digital technologies in which the user can easily delete photos (in tandem with the ultrafast shutter speeds of newer smartphones). This technique allows the photographer to snap a number of shots of a particular subject in order to increase the likelihood of achieving a good photo. I used this technique particularly with moving subjects (or when I was moving, e.g. in a car) as an alternative to a single well-timed click.

Conclusions:


In their exploration of online tourist photography, Lo and McKercher (2015) identify three main reasons why travellers take cameras with them, these are: 1) aide memoire, 2) relationship management, and, 3) impression management (i.e. self presentation). I would say that my photography did indeed fall into the purview of these three areas. While taking photographs was partly a method for me to capture and remember things I liked or which were significant to me(1), it also served the purpose of having something to share with friends (2,3), a way of crystalising and verifying my interpretations of the foreign landscape which I shared on my blog (3), a way of making travel easier by storing information (1), and, a way to prospectively increase my companion’s enjoyment by recording the trip’s pleasant moments (2).

I have analysed ‘my’ photographic record here. As I proceeded through this task, however, I came to realise that not all photos within my device memory were in fact my own. While cameras and especially phones are personalised devices (smartphones commonly requiring a key code to enter) some of the images in my device memory were taken, with my complicity, by my wife, or, by complete strangers. A handful of these images (around 10) were downloaded into my record, rather than taken as a photograph. When I started I assumed the photographic narrative I was looking through was a chronological record of my own voice, and as such univocal and linear. Instead I find that it contains polyvocal and nonlinear elements.

Another salient point that comes to play here, is that because I was travelling with my wife, we effectively shared the responsibility for recording travel moments, and, indeed, acted as photographers for each other. Sometimes when we went out only one of us had a device, and thus this person took the role of taking photos for, and of, the other one (my wife is featured in about 1/3 of my shots). When I didn’t have a camera of my own and saw something interesting I asked my wife to take photos or took photos myself using her phone. Afterwards, these images can be easily shared via an Internet connection or Bluetooth. This same practice of image swapping would, I’d say, occur with many groups travellers as it provides a convenient way to enlarge one’s photographic record and to get pictures of oneself in the landscape.

It would be fair to deduce, that, because I travelled with another person, and, with online narratives such as my blogs, that my trip photography was a social activity in which the decision to take a photo frequently occurs with an audience in mind. Indeed, Dinhopl and Gretzel (2016) contend that connected travellers see the landscape not only through their own eyes but those of the imagined audience as well. Indeed, what I saw as photoworthy in the landscape was influenced by my online social circles, and, particularly, the presence of my travel companion with whom I could share images. This may not have been the case in previous times when travellers were more separated from their contacts and photographic images were more costly to produce. It is interesting to note here, following this comment on the increased profusion of photos within travel, the way in which informational content also forms a significant part of my photo record, highlighting the increased role technology plays in how travellers see, navigate, and experience the landscape.

In a future study, it would be interesting to expand the size of the photographic record surveyed in order to include other sites where records of the trip from myself and others are available, such as my computer memory (such as screenshots and photos downloaded in relation to the trip), my travel companion’s photos, photos taken by others that are displayed on my social networking websites and any other images collected throughout the trip (such as a disc me and my bought from a professional photographer who accompanied a day tour we went on). Such a study would help highlight the way in which the traveller not only sees but also remembers their travel in a social way as images are collected from a number of sources and form a kind of collaborative collage across their digital devices/profiles. Such a study would also highlight the increasingly distributed and polyvocal nature of travel narratives in their digital form.