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Cameras and their wielders

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

This was written after an epic road trip to the West Coast in 1994. With cell-phones in every pocket, I don’t know if conditions would be better or worse today….

If Miss Manners doesn’t deal with camera protocol before vacation season gets further underway, I may have to write to her myself.

Dear Miss Manners: I like to think I am a patient person, well versed in the courtesies expected of individuals in crowded places. I am, however, at wits’ end in the matter of photographers, amateur and professional, at popular tourist spots, and how to balance their needs with our own sightseeing enjoyment.

Are gentlefolk required always to wait until the camera-wielder has achieved his goals of lighting, framing, and snapping before proceeding along a garden path? Or may one politely excuse oneself and step through the scene the photographer has so carefully assembled?

Really. If you have not yet ventured forth into vacationland this year, be forewarned; they are out there, millions of them, armed with lenses and tripods and the attitude that their artistic endeavors are entitled to right of way.

We hit almost every high spot of the western United States last spring. Actually, Dave will tell you we probably hit all we’re ever going to see, because it seems as though everything really worth seeing requires a long haul by motor home over high mountain passes and along treacherous canyon rims.
But that’s another column.

Obviously, in a very large plaza, like the broad sidewalk in front of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, one can skirt with little inconvenience the tourists taking each others’ pictures. But consider the scenario at Bright Angel Point on the Grand Canyon’s north rim, on a narrow path in a crowd of people, at least half of whom are taking pictures of the other half against that splendid scenery – there’s no way everybody can wait for everybody else to get their picture, and still get out there in time to see the sunset.

Sunset! That’s the worst. That’s when the arty fellows come out and set up long exposures to catch the changing light on the red cliffs. We watched a guy carefully climb to a precarious perch on a high flat rock, where he checked light and got his focus set just right to catch a silhouetted oak against the sunset, and then sat back to wait for that certain glow.

He didn’t wait long. Another fellow chose the flat rock in front of the first one and obviously intended to do exactly the same. Our first photog was steaming. He had not selected that particular gnarled oak to snap the blue jacket and backside of another photographer hunched under it.
I took a picture of the two of them.

We were ambling along Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, Calif. when we saw an older gentleman panning the little harbor with his video camera, murmuring as he did. His wife hustled over, explaining apologetically that they usually forgot to narrate their videos and then they don’t know where they were shot when they got home.

I had noticed that phenomenon before, and not having a camcorder myself, was a bit perplexed at the sight of people walking along, murmuring prayerfully as they immortalized everything before them.

Would you believe, we watched tourists exposing video film of the trunks of sequoias in California?

You can’t get back far enough to get much more than a large expanse of dark gray bark, a poor recording of a magnificent work of nature even on a slide. But on video? What did they expect to do, catch the first recorded shimmy of a living sequoia trunk?

Forgive me if I perpetuate an ethnic stereotype, but it really is true that the Japanese observe all of their vacation trips through the viewfinder of a camera. Perhaps when they get home and find leisure time, they enjoy their visit by watching it on TV – but that’s another stereotype of the Japanese: They don’t have leisure time.

Anyhow, I’ve seen a crowd of Japanese tourists nearly sink a Rhine cruise boat, as they rushed en masse from side to side of the vessel, cameras whirring, to catch the image of castle ruins along the riverbanks.

In Vegas, we noted they not only took each others’ pictures, but posed artistically for them. I saw a stern-looking businessman turn from one side to another, offering both profiles and a far-away stare against the backdrop of a crashing fountain.

Sometimes watching other tourists is more fun than seeing the sights you tour for. Sometimes other tourists are the sights.

But forgive me if I walk right through your frame, whatever Miss Manners advises.

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