People keep asking to see my pictures. I knew they would, but I decided not to take pictures anyway.
Well, I did take a few. But I don’t like taking pictures, and in China it became clear to me why.
I’ve always felt that you can either be part of an event, or you can photograph the event, and it’s difficult to toggle between one mode and the other.
But there’s a deeper reason than what amounts to laziness.
I remember having read many years ago about tribes whose members did not want to be photographed because they believed the photographer was stealing their soul. At the time, I thought, how silly, how… how primitive!
But now that’s pretty much the way I feel, too. If I see someone being picturesque and snap their photo, I have “captured” their image and that moment in their life. I have objectified a fellow human being; I have turned him or her into a souvenir.
Chinese people seemed to mostly take pictures of each other standing in front of tourist attractions, and when Martin and I went to see the Giant Buddha, we did that, too. But I did most of my sightseeing in China alone. And I wasn’t interested in taking pictures of famous buildings and views, because I knew I could find better pictures online.
What I would have wanted to take was pictures of people and slices of life. I would love now to have a picture of the man I saw sitting in front of a Chengdu cafe drinking tea and reading a book—with a calico cat curled up on his table. Or a shot of the men I watched playing cards on a stack of suitcases in the Chengdu airport. Or one of the group of Chengdu recyclers who’d circled their bicycle carts and were taking an afternoon cigarette break as Martin and I walked by.
But to have taken any of those pictures would have been incredibly rude, even invasive. I was aware a number of times that people were taking my picture doing taiji at Renmin Park, and I did not like it. And yes, you can always ask permission first, but that can be awkward and even if the people say yes, the moment has been changed.
So, folks, I’m sorry, but there really are no more pictures.