The Photographer as Travel Agent

“What good is a book that does not even carry us beyond all books?”—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1887)

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If I take a picture of some stunning street art, it’s because I want to encourage you to go see it for yourself. A photograph of a breathtaking Montreal mural is no substitute for the experience of actually standing in front of one of these beautiful works of art.

What good is a photograph that does not even carry us beyond all photographs? If I take a picture of the Mountain, it’s because I want to encourage you to go to the Mountain. If I take a picture of the River, it’s because I want to encourage you to go to the River. If I take a picture of some stunning street art, it’s because I want to encourage you to go see it for yourself. A photograph of a breathtaking Montreal mural is no substitute for the experience of actually standing in front of one of these beautiful works of art.

Good photographs point past themselves (like good books, and travel brochures); they deepen our understanding of, and increase our appreciation for, the world around us. Bad photographs have precisely the opposite effect; they distort our understanding of, and decrease our appreciation for, the real world (which never seems to measure up).

Were he alive today, the author of Émile (1762) would no doubt maintain that bad photographs are, at bottom, a corrupting influence upon the imagination. And he’d be right. Bad photographs tell us lies about the world—pernicious, photoshopped lies—which make the real world, the only one we ever really have, seem bland and boring by comparison.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Village Explainer (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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