Tuesday, July 22, 2008

lost in translation

No question: the digital photography revolution has made it easier than ever for people to take beautiful pictures. Unlike the film days of old, having only limited knowledge about variables such as shutter speed, aperture and metering is no longer a handicap. Just put your digital camera into auto, frame, and fire away. No fuss ... and great photography every time. What an age we live in!

The pleasant and impeccably preserved Old Town of Tallinn, capital of the Baltic nation of Estonia. (2008).

However, with photography having become so easily accessible to the masses, it begs the question: can photography really be considered an art anymore? I mean, let's face it, anyone can do it. I think this is a good question, though I can't really say it's one I thought much about before my recent trip to Finland.

So, about Finland. Right. One of the lessons I learned at the Castleman School of Travel Writing was to never unfairly pan an entire place because of an isolated incident or two, so I won't do it in detail here. What I will do is share with you one particular nugget from my trip.

Imagine Helsinki, capital of Finland, maybe around 9pm on a Friday night. I'm sitting on a park bench checking text messages on my phone, across the street from the Hotel Kämp, Finland's leading luxury hotel. Really nice area of town, as you might expect. There are a lot of people walking around (it's Friday, after all), and an eyebrow-raising number of them are strolling about with open liquor (this is actually illegal in Finland, but it's a law that's not enforced). But whatever ... when in Rome ... and so forth.

Then, two well-dressed Finnish guys, maybe in their late twenties, walk by in front of me drinking beers, clearly drunk. As they pass, one of them sees fit to rear back and smash his empty bottle on the wall behind me. They laugh - because, see, this is apparently funny - and continue stumbling on their way. No one around me seems to so much as bat an eyelash at the scene. I'm not sure why - maybe this is normal behaviour in Helsinki on Friday night? Like the truly unique Finnish language, I don't get it. But sometimes, it just is what it is.

So ask me again whether I think photography is art ... and I'll answer that damn right it is. I'll also add that I'm no artist ... because in my five days in Finland, I've (unexpectedly) been around enough mean-spirited rudeness and misery to know that I neither have the inspiration nor the ability to make this place look very beautiful from any angle, so the only pictures you'll see in this post are from Estonia. Finland ... I'll leave to the real pros.

The silver lining in all of this? If there is a particular photographic genre that starfish and waffles specializes in, it's travel photography ... and the "travel" part of the equation implies that one inevitably moves on and leaves it behind.

With this Finnish experience, I've moved on and left it behind.

Tallinn's Gothic town hall was constructed in the 14th century and is the only one of its type in northern Europe that has survived to the present day. (2008).

Tallinn's Old Town is delightfully (and authentically) medieval and, not surprisingly, the city markets itself as such to foreign tourists. To fit with the theme, many who work at Tallinn's main attractions are donned in period costume, like this girl who was selling tickets for the Danish Gardens. (2008).


  1. Oh, DB: tis hard on travel writers (or indeed photographers) when a place doesn't resonate. But you can capture the grit and gloom too: we don't have to radiate sunshine and puppies from our pores 24/7!

    I hope Estonia cheered you. Ax

    PS: I'm enjoying seeing more people in your pix. Good stuff!

  2. With regards to whether photography is an art of not, I will refer to Stewie Griffin: "Oooooooh, you took a black-and-white picture of a lawn chair and its shadow and developed it at Save-On. You must be so brooding and deep."

    But yeah, digital photography is awesome. I needsta get me an SLR one of these days.

  3. Amanda ... True enough. Tallinn ended up being just a daytrip for me, I didn't do much but wander around the Old Town but that was pleasant enough. As for people in pics, yeah, I guess maybe I've been snapping more of people ... though I have to say photography people isn't one of my strong suits. I have trouble seeing good shots and don't like my equipment for that purpose.

    Blake ... an SLR isn't much fun to lug around at times, but you can't argue with the optical quality. There are definitely a lot of shots posted here that I wouldn't have been able to get with a point-and-shoot ...