22 September 2012

The Worst Part About Traveling: Other Tourists

       Since I first purchased a digital camera, I have taken well over 100,000 photos. This is symptomatic of a deep-seated desire for perfection in almost everything I do. Where I used to stand around for several seconds, minutes, and, on more than one occasion, hours composing a shot and waiting for the perfect moment to click the shutter, I now stand around for several seconds, minutes, and sometimes even hours composing a shot and waiting for the perfect moment to take a hundred pictures in quick succession. All the time that this and other compulsions (I am also an inordinately detailed journalizer) take up when I am traveling tends to annoy even the most amiable of traveling companions.
       One of my worst, or possibly best, photographing habits, however, is waiting for all other tourists to clear out of my pictures before I take them. A bird here or there is sometimes acceptable, but a full-blown human in the midst of a composition is right out. When you visit national landmarks, this photographic tick can be extremely time consuming; e.g., I was at the Louvre trying to get a decent shot of the Venus de Milo, and despite the fact that there were about thirty people milling about, I arranged the shot and took it when several people were passing exactly behind the statue. It took about thirty minutes, but the room looks completely abandoned in my picture and it is glorious.
       On that same trip to Paris, I visited the Musee D’Orsay, an old depot turned into an art museum known for its large Impressionist collection, and took an, if I can be frank, almost perfect picture. On the top floor of the former train station, a giant clock overlooks the highest point in the city, Sacré Coeur cathedral. Its face is made of pristine glass, and when you are standing in the museum on a sunny day, the bright features of Paris’ building facades, rooftops, and skyline stand in stark contrast to the black silhouette of the enormous hands, decorative metalwork, and crisscrossed steel supports of the clock. It feels like you have been shrunk to the size of a dust particle and you’re looking at an old slide projector image of Paris from inside someone’s watch.
       What viewers can’t see in the photo itself, however, is the family of tourists that finally stepped away from the giant timepiece about two seconds before I snapped the actual picture. Walking through the museum, I actually stumbled upon the view of the clock serendipitously. There were several people getting pictures taken near it, so I found a good angle from across the room, adjusted the settings on my camera, and figured I would be waiting a few seconds before the view directly in front of me would clear out. I didn’t understand why people wanted pictures taken so ridiculously close to the clock that you couldn’t even tell what it was, but I’m not one to judge.
       I waited and waited until there was only one family of four left taking a pictures. My camera had actually shut off automatically at this point, and I had completely lost track of my friends; this is the price you pay for almost perfect photography. I turned on my camera and readjusted my shot, but the family kept taking pictures with each other. First it was a picture of the mom and the children. Then, it was the mom and one child. Then, it was the mom and the other child. Then, the mom and dad switched places. She took a picture of the dad with both kids, the dad with one kid, and the dad with the other kid. My camera shut off again, so I turned it back on. The dad stepped away and took a picture of both kids. The dad had one kid take a picture of him and his wife.
       I figured it would be over soon, but I was wrong. I stared in amazement as the family composed themselves in exactly the same place as the original photo with the mother and both children, but this time, they took their glasses off and proceeded to work their way through the same routine a second time. My camera shut off again; I turned it back on, hoping it would be over soon. Like a miniature circus of clowns, the family ran around in circles, stopping their frenzied rotation for a few moments every few seconds in order to get snapshots with different combinations of children, parents, and fashion accessories.
       At some point, I forgot why I was even standing there. I become intensely interested in the absurdity of what I saw and had almost no interest in the perfect picture I had arranged roughly nine minutes earlier, judging by the number of times my camera had shut down and receded into itself, knowing when to give up much better than I did.
       All the while, people filtered in and out of the area. No one seemed to notice the eccentric family in front of the clock with their curious, stop-motion routine. My camera shut off; I almost didn’t turn it back on again, but my compulsive need to get the picture I wanted, coupled with the amount of time I had already invested, made it impossible for me to leave at that point. Security would have needed to tase me and drag me out of that museum. “One of them will certainly have to go to the bathroom,” I thought. “Where do those children get the endurance to go along with this for so long,” I asked myself, “and how are they still smiling?”
       Finally, they left. It was probably for the best because I had started wondering how a missing pane of glass would look in my picture. I sighed for a moment when I realized the minute hand of the clock was going to ruin the symmetry of the composition, but I decided to take the picture anyway. I held down the shutter and snapped about twenty or so pictures. The first ones are always blurry anyway, especially when your hands are shaking with rage.

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