Whenever something looks interesting or beautiful, there’s a natural impulse to want to capture and preserve it – which means, in this day and age, that we’re likely to reach for our phones to take a picture.
Though this would seem to be an ideal solution, there are two big problems associated with taking pictures. Firstly, we’re likely to be so busy taking the pictures, we forget to look at the world whose beauty and interest prompted us to take a photograph in the first place. And secondly, because we feel the pictures are safely stored on our phones, we never get around to looking at them, so sure are we that we’ll get around to it one day.
These problems would seem to be very much of today, a consequence of the tiny phones in our pockets. But they were noticed right at the beginning of the history of photography, when the average camera was the size of a grandfather clock. The first person to notice them was the English art critic, John Ruskin. He was a keen traveller who realised that most tourists make a dismal job of noticing or remembering the beautiful things they see. He argued that humans have an innate tendency to respond to beauty and desire to possess it, but that there are better and worse expressions of this desire. At worst, we get into buying souvenirs or taking photographs. But, in Ruskin’s eyes, there’s one thing we should do and that is attempt to draw the interesting things we see, irrespective of whether we happen to have any talent for doing so.