Journey or Destination

DSC03094_g.JPG Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 5:20 PM CDT

We are frequently counseled to focus on the journey, not just the destination. Point taken. I understand that it’s important to focus on the doing, on the present, not be obsessed always with the end result. However, I also believe that some people look upon the destination as just another finish line to cross. They don’t pay enough attention to the destination once they arrive. They don’t pause and look around and explore the place they’ve made all the effort getting to. They see the arrival as the termination, the end point of the journey rather the beginning of being there.

When I was growing up, it was fashionable to mock the stereotype of Japanese tourists who would travel long distances together in a bus, arrive at some point of interest, jump out and snap a lot of group photos of themselves in front of said sight, then jump back in the bus and repeat.

On this trip, I found myself in similar circumstances. I could see that I was different than my fellow travellers but this difference was not explained away neatly by nationality, gender, age, or race.

Technology was partially a factor. This was mostly a group of Facebook-savvy people, people entirely used to taking a selfie (unembarrassed to use a selfie-stick) and immediately checking it before sharing it. On our first long bus ride, they spent most of the time checking their photos from the previous day and feeling frustrated that there was no wifi to upload them to Facebook. Then someone discovered that they could airdrop each other and they spent hours swapping selfies.

I spent most of my time looking out the window.

I think the Japanese tourist was similarly excited about technology; postwar Japan was turning out great cameras for the avid amateur: Nikon, Canon, Minolta. Taking a snapshot reflected the ubiquitousness of that technology. The two years I lived in Japan, I got very use to posing with my students for snapshots on every occasion and for formal group photos with my colleagues for any school event.

When I lived as an ex-pat in Japan, my consciousness was focused on being there, not getting there. That’s one reason I chose to live there rather than just visit as a tourist. I wonder if I would behave differently if I were also a long-distance runner as were my companions on this trip. I come from a family of runners and am married to one. The finish line is just an end marker to the run itself. They spend all their time running with no interest of getting anywhere. Their focus is on running faster, stronger, better—beating some previously set record. I’ve been told if a runner cares only about the finish, then all the hours of running and running and running would be miserable. They have to love the running itself.

In sharp contrast, I enjoy most simply being there. In some ways, every photograph is a mini-destination, a momentary stopping point frozen in time.

DSC03101_g.JPG Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 6:48 PM CDT

GPlus Discussion

What kind of traveller are you: are you more interested in the journey or the destination? or do you manage to balance an interest in both?

Kee Hinckley Mar 29, 2015

I’m caught up with live sharing. Everywhere I am, all I can think of is “Gee, I bet other people would like to see this too.” That does mean that I sometimes don’t appreciate where I am as much as I should.

M Sinclair Stevens Mar 29, 2015

+Kee Hinckley, Were you always like that or has your behavior changed in response to the technologies now available to you?

I remember when I got my first digital camera, I began taking photos of my meals out. People would stare at me and sometimes the people I was eating with would be uncomfortable or irritated by what they found to be perverse behavior.

Now, I would be considered strange (or old-fashioned) if I didn’t take out my iPhone and document my meal.

Kee Hinckley Mar 29, 2015

+M Sinclair Stevens, Before the technology became available I still took photos, but I was heavy on landscapes. I would take picture of my family–photos of me are scarce. But I was definitely into finding the perfect picture.

About a week ago I finally decided to try instagram. Aside from discovering that that was where my daughter was now posting her artwork, I have found that it’s just right for my need to share. If only it didn’t crop the photos, and could post to G+

M Sinclair Stevens Mar 29, 2015

+Kee Hinckley, My brother, who does a lot of sailing and cross-country motorcycle riding, never takes a camera. He says people like me are so obsessed with getting the shot that we are never present in the moment.

I counter, that without the camera, I wouldn’t really be looking because I tend normally to be focused inward, lost inside my head. The camera forces me to look outward and to look for that “telling detail” that will express my impression or a reaction to a place. I think, “What is the story I want to tell and how do I tell it?”

I especially like that you explained your motivation. You said you were “caught up with live sharing” because you think that others will want to see what you are seeing.

When I write these kinds of questions, I’m never looking for a “right” way to approach a situation. I’m mostly interested in finding out why people have chosen the habits they’ve formed. I find the diversity of responses to the world endlessly fascinating.

Paul Beard Mar 29, 2015

As easy as it is to take a decent picture (exposure is all managed, composition on screen is easier than ever), I don’t see how stopping to capture a moment is not being in the moment. Wasn’t it the sense of the moment, the angle of the light or whatever, what made you stop?

M Sinclair Stevens Mar 29, 2015

+paul beard That’s how I feel, too. Moreover, forces me to pay attention and to experiment with looking at things from a variety of perspectives to determine which best tells the story.

Jim Gomes Mar 29, 2015

But doesn’t framing and looking for a picture that captures your impression of the place inherently make you view the place in the past rather than the present? Yes, it may make you look outward, but you are also looking backward instead of forward. I struggle with the desire to capture against the desire to experience. If I am looking through a viewfinder, I’m not really experiencing the present and near future; I’m looking at the past. Sometimes I have to put the physical camera down and let my eyes be the camera and my brain the film. The photos aren’t as crisp and sharp, but they’re much richer.

M Sinclair Stevens Mar 29, 2015

+Jim Gomes Actually, I think I’m looking into the future…thinking about what my future self (or anyone else I may tell the story to) will want to know. That’s a bit glib. I really do think the action makes me more present. In the present. Because I’m looking around thinking, what is it about this place that is distinguishes it from all other places. I’m asking myself questions. What’s the story here? What’s significant. I do a lot of thinking first. I don’t have my eye stuck inside the viewfinder. Often as not, my impressions are recorded with pen on paper.

Mee Ming Wong Mar 29, 2015

+M Sinclair Stevens Wonderful read and beautiful shots, I especially like the road one, great composition.

Many people visit places only once, I can understand why they want to make the most of it. For me, there is a large difference between seeing and experiencing during travel, each is set on a different time frame. Understanding yourself and knowing what you want out of travel is important.

Photography stops and slows down moments for me. It has helped me become more sensitive to where I am, notice light and colour. Looking at the photographs afterwards reminds me of other senses, like noise or the wind. But I don’t plan it out all that much.

I have plans to read Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, it is at the library here. Thanks for mentioning it.

Your photographs are beautiful!

M Sinclair Stevens Mar 30, 2015

+Mee Ming Wong Your last paragraph describes an experience closer to mine. Taking photographs forces me to be more sensitive to where I am.

I’m glad you like the motorcycle shot. It was actually taken from inside the moving bus. Up until this point in the trip, we had driven two days hardly seeing anyone. Our one big traffic jam had been when we were forced to stop for a flock of sheep being herded across the road.

When the two motorcyclists passed us, I found them to be a romantic image, like Che Guevera in the Motorcycle Diaries or my own brother. I spent about five minutes trying to get a shot of them well-spaced on the empty, undulating road. I was pleased that, even shooting through the bus window, that the lens didn’t pick up the dirt, the reflection, or the chips in the glass.

I find it interesting how this discussion has turned to the topic of photographing a place…that is, turned to arguing with my brother on whether trying to record the moment removes or inserts one in the moment.

My original question was about journey and destination. I find it strange to be with people who will travel four, six, twelve hours to a spot only to stand around for five minutes snapping pictures of themselves in front of it (as proof that they can check it off the list?) and then be satisfied enough to leave again. I want to feel the place, notice the quality of the air, the noise, the smells, the textures, and how other people interact with it (like you do in your excellent museum photos).

I spent almost my entire journey looking out the window at scenes I had never seen before and, most likely, will never see again. That’s how I saw both of these moments before deciding to photograph them. My fellow travellers spent that same time looking at their phones.

Mee Ming Wong Mar 30, 2015

+M Sinclair Stevens Motorcycle Diaries is what came to mind when I saw your photograph. Interesting how images from films leaves such an imprint. 🙂

I was skiing at Whistler in British Columbia some years ago. At the bottom of a run, I ran into a friend, he asked how long it took me to come down the mountain. It took me 20 minutes, he said, he did it in 3 minutes. It hit me as a strange question at the time. We were there for different experiences and he was trying to connect it with time. That made no sense to me.

I find journey and destination to be distinct events. The process, experience of a journey adds an intrinsic fabric to my own personal growth, destination is more extrinsic for me and it is not something I value.

On that run down the mountain, I cannot say which of us enjoyed ourselves more. I enjoyed the views and he had an adrenal rush racing with time. Each person looks for their own fun.

Your trip sounds incredible. I have Patagonia on my mind. 🙂

nomad dimitri Mar 31, 2015

+M Sinclair Stevens i really prefer stewing in the local broth than running for a target. however, creating a “fake” target, can give impulse to a journey. as time passes, these targets become increasingly eccentric, but are never numeric (this altitude, these many miles, etc)

M Sinclair Stevens Mar 31, 2015

+nomad dimitri “stew in the local broth” Oh! That’s the perfect description! I’m going to think of it that way from now on.

I don’t think I did a very good job of explaining my discontent in this post…and then we got off on a discussion about photography. But in my next post, in the comments, I give an example of what I mean about people who arrive, take a photo, and then turn away from the moment. That’s what I found incomprehensible, especially after the effort to get there.

Bonus: some ice and snow for you (if you are still craving them). I took many photos of ice and snow and thought about you while doing so.