This is a question that has intrigued me well before the advent of digital cameras and i Phones & phonecams made kneejerk clicking ubiquitous.
Now with free and easy digital “photo-taking” as a tourist recently called it near the Sydney Opera House, you can’t escape the zillion lenses pointed every which way. Today, we are all being recorded constantly. And not just by the “Big Brother” eyes of the surveillance agencies and traffic cams. But by 8-year olds sporting the latest iPhones to grey-bearded octogenarians with walking sticks in one hand and a camera in the other.
It got to the point where I started recording tourists “photo-taking” from Beijing to Bombay…and of course, in my home cities of Sydney & Paris.
But the thing that really got me was Japanese tourists.
They would approach any tourist attraction in an organised group – complete with flag-wielding group leader.
(90% of them would be sporting Nikons in those olde film days – For the record, I was a Nikon user too from the classic Nikon F up to the F3)
Then they would proceed in a robotic android-like march-stop-turn-click-click-click-bow-bow-march-on precision of a bee-swarm buzzing up to a sweet-smelling field of flowers and buzz-buzz they were gone in a flash.
(pun not intended. Although if I did intend the subconcious pun, it wouldn’t be too bad, would it?).
Today the Japanese fetish for “photo-taking” has been overtaken by every type, size, shape & age of mobile human. Once we went forth armed with just an open mind, open eyes and and a natural human curiosity.
Then came diaries, journals & filofaxes.
Then the cursed – and much loved – mobile phone.
And now, it’s cameras. Cameras in your phone, on your sleeve, on your hat and huge bazookas (note I didn’t say “Cannons” though I was tempted) on your chest.
[And no Virginia, I’m not being rude – Bazooka is a weapon. Nowadays, also called RPGs or rocket propelled grenades].
So now you have tourists from almost every nation snapping away – everywhere.
But the Japanese have become more adventurous and sophisticated. They – like citizens of other major economies – are multilingual.
So they no longer travel in homogeneous groups, but as single and coupled travellers.
The tour buses now herd a lot more tourists from the emerging giants: China, India & Brazil and other emerging nations.
Ben Groundwater in his Sydney Morning Herald column “The backpacker” muses on the same question at some length, before coming to the same conclusion as I did: “whatever”
He wonders “…The real issue, however, is those cameras, or more specifically the thousands of photos currently being taken.
What the hell do they do with them all? Keep them? In that case every Japanese house must be groaning at the seams with cherry blossom photos, its paper walls covered many times over with testaments to their search for the perfect flower. Or maybe they throw them all out after a while, consigning the photos to the same fate as their subject, gone like the beautiful moment in time they represent.
Who knows? I certainly don’t. What I can tell you, though, is that this bizarre and ancient custom is strangely contagious.