On Travel Photography

A brief break from my normal travel updates. 

A picture says a thousand words but how many does it silence
I’ve taken thousands of pictures on this trip. The extraordinary and the mundane; my blurry thumb covering the lens, the misjudged selfie without a self; overexposed and underexposed, and the occasional pocket picture. I would look out of the bus and wonder whether I could get a Facebook-worthy shot of the scenery through the smudged window, should I Instagram this funny sign, and where I can find wifi to post this sunset on Twitter. I was interacting with my surroundings through a lens, thinking about how to frame the world into pixels.

Taking pictures is distracting. I took multiple pictures of the same statue to get the perfect shot (hint: it doesn’t exist). Later reviewing my photos I realized that each successive picture of the statue was less exciting than the one before, they all looked the same. I hadn’t really appreciated the statue, I was too focused on getting the angle and lighting just right.

“It seems positively unnatural to travel for pleasure without taking a camera along. Photographs will offer indisputable evidence that the trip was made, that the program was carried out, that fun was had.”
– Susan Sontag, On Photography

I’ve met some tourists and travelers who are very shutter-happy, toting massive DSLR’s and bragging about their lens size. Others don’t even bring a camera with them. Up until Tuesday my picture taking had decreased since I began traveling. It would hover between five shots of the same cow and no pictures for three days.

First of all, I am fine.
I was not harmed at all. But on Tuesday I was robbed. I was leaving Dar es Salaam when I got into a shared taxi with the wrong people. They took my camera, cash, phones, and used my ATM card to withdraw money. But they didn’t take my tablet, passport, or find my other bank cards. I spent a shakey afternoon at the US Embassy and then the police station. I holed up for 2 more days in Dar recovering, even though I wasn’t hurt or threatened it was terrifying. The shock wore off after a day but I still felt hollow and miserable.

There were a few consolations. I reported their license plate number to the police. The smartphone they stole will only work in the US (thanks Verizon for being a monopoly) and the camera batteries need a special charger which I still have, so both items are pretty useless. My travel insurance should cover most of the loss. Most importantly, I am safe and unharmed. It could have been much worse. They even let me keep my memory cards so I didn’t lose the Africa pictures which I haven’t uploaded.

I left Dar es Salaam two days ago for Tanga, a coastal town in northern Tanzania. It’s beautiful and I feel like I can relax again. Without my camera I decided to use this as an opportunity to get out from behind the lens for the next three weeks. I’ll take a few pictures with my tablet and maybe I’ll find a disposable camera in Nairobi. Until I return to the US in October you will have to shut your eyes and imagine what Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya look like.

And you’ll have to trust my word that I am having fun, the photographic proof will come later.

Categories: Tanzania

14 thoughts on “On Travel Photography

  • gblakev katewanders I ended up waiting to buy a new camera, I’ll have more time while I’m in the USA to research which one to get. I tried to find a disposable camera but without zoom it would have been pretty limited. So I got out from behind the lens and just took mental pictures of the zebras and warthogs!

  • gblakev

    katewanders gblakev You can probably find someplace to develop film – some CVS and Walgreens stores have the equipment. There are some mail order developers, too. (I looked briefly online.) Some of these places will scan your photos and put them on a CD for you. But all this costs extra money beyond the cost of the camera (that has a very poor lens). The Canon PowerShot cameras start at $99 from B&H Photo. They are very good pocket cameras. I like my Panasonic Lumix. They have very good lens from Leica but they cost more because they have excellent zoom capabilities. The advantage of these lower end point-and-shoot cameras is that their lens collapse into the body when not in use so that they can be put in your pocket or hidden. I would stick with the tablet until you can get a pocket camera.

  • michaelinsf I’m still waiting for something serendipitous, I’ll let you know. It’s been a good new year, lots of delicious fresh fruit here! Even some apples and honey 🙂

  • gblakev my plan is to try to find a disposable camera in Nairobi, remember those? Maybe with a zoom. I can take passable pictures with my tablet but it is a bulky, touristy accessory. I wonder if I could get the film developed, or has that gone out of fashion like pay phones?

  • StephanieStupack thank you! Losing my passport would have been a huge pain and would have disrupted my trip even more. Though I would have had an excuse to get a better picture, this one is just terrible!

  • StephanieStupack thank you! Losing my passport would have been a huge pain and would have disrupted my trip even more. Though I would have had an excuse to get a better picture, this one is just terrible!

  • aqueductsusan it’s great to hear from you! You’re certainly right about the self-doubt, it took a few days to find my feet again. Now that I’ve left Tanzania I feel more released from the terrible experience. 

    I felt foolish and naïve for having gotten into a car of strangers, but I reminded myself about the dozens of car rides the last seven months that have been not only safe but enjoyable and enlightening. The only way to overcome it is to get back on the horse, a bit smarter and wiser, so full steam ahead!

    I hope that you and your family are well!

  • michaelinsf

    Glad that you emerged safely from your robbing incident! 

    So I guess it means you are starting the new year in a fresh new way (Rosh Hashanah was Wednesday night), maybe something serendipitous can still come out of it.

    Traveling without photos could be like dancing without taking videos, just letting the experience sink in and leave its mark (or not) as it pleases.

  • gblakev

    I’m glad you’re safe.
    I have wrestled with the dilemma of taking pictures vs. enjoying the scenery (or event) many times. When I had my camera stolen from my backpack when I was at a hostel, I went out and bought another as soon as I could. I guess I needed to be able to take pictures. Sometimes when I’m out-and-about I see something I want to remember or share. So, now I keep my digital point-and-shoot camera in my car. On some trips (i.e. Cambodia) I take the point-and-shoot instead of my DSLR because it’s too cumbersome. And then I wish I had the DSLR because it’s more versatile. Personally I would recommend that you get an inexpensive point-and-shoot with some zoom capability so that you have it available. Then you can think about limiting its use. (Is this like going food shopping when you’re on a diet?) I think you’ll miss not having a camera.

  • StephanieStupack

    :c ❤❤❤❤❤ Stay safe!!! I’m sorry this happened to you. Thank goodness you are alright (and still have your passport)!

  • aqueductsusan

    Oh Kate, what a horrible experience….even more than the items they took, they wickedly stole your inner peace (which takes longer to get back). Here’s to hoping Tanga will replenish your spirit, trust and self-confidence. Most of all, keep reminding yourself that this incidence was NOT your fault. It seems that thieves & people who take advantage of others do their worst harm by making one doubt themselves. Maybe this isn’t what you’re going through, but if you are I am sending you positive vibes that your recovery will be swift…and you’ll be strong again.

    Thank you for taking the time to write your blog, so we can catch glimpses outside of California!

  • debbyandell

    katewanders debbyandell It can be more fulfilling than juxtaposing the next great shot.

  • debbyandell It’s a new challenge, my first time ever traveling without a camera!

  • debbyandell

    I’m glad you are able to put the robbery in perspective. All that matters is that you are well.

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