[Exploration of Concept and Medium] - I was once there


Whenever we go travel we like to take pictures of everythings we see. In fact, this is how I got into photography at first. At the age of twelve, I bought my first camera when I first went to Australia. It was around 2009, Facebook was starting to get popular at that time, I was thinking I could photograph everything while I was there, post it online and share it with my friends back in Hong Kong. Also, it would be nice to be able to capture what I did while I’m on holidays in Hong Kong, so that I could look at those photos whenever I feel homesick. I had zero knowledge about photography at that time, I don’t know how oprate a camera. It was a Diana F+, all I had to do was to change the three aperture settings to match the time of day and click the shutter. I failed to do that, my first roll of film I only had two or three correct exposures. I slowly learned how to operate the camera, once on a family trip to New York, all three rows of film were all exposed correctly, it was something I’m really proud of at that time. On my thirteenth birthday, my parents bought me a DSLR, with all the trials and errors I started to learn how to operate a camera. Most days after school, I would stay in my room and take pictures of things that are in my room or go walk around in the park and take pictures of things that interested me. 

I was privileged enough that my parents would bring me on a family trip every year, this is where my love for photo taking started. Like most millennials, all I had to do was to take pretty pictures while I’m traveling, do some heavy editing or put a cool filter on it, post it online and get likes. I thought this was what being a photographer was all about, expensive cameras and lens, highly edited photos and lots of followers and likes.

Fast forward to winter of 2017, on a family trip to Canada. It was a two weeks trip, starting out from Vancouver, then to Yellowknife back to Vancouver again and joined a Chinese local tour to Banff. It was our first time in Canada, there were a lot of things we didn’t know, how to commute, where to eat or where to buy stuff. We had some ideas for where we wanted to go but the challenge was how to get there. For me this is what traveling is about; the journey, to experience the place that I’m traveling to and experience a new culture. We did exactly that for the first week and a half.

On the flip side, traveling with a tour is about the destination. When everyone is on the tour bus the journey doesn’t matter, it’s important to get to all the famous destination without any interruption. Being on a tour means that you have no control over what you do. Everything is planned, down to what and how much time you can enjoy your supper, which is reasonable. However what frustrated me is how ethnocentric the tour is; travel halfway across the world to have food that I could have back home.

Traveling thousands of kilometers on a tour bus, looking at scenery that the beautiful British Columbia has offered, endless of glaciers in the far distance, roads covered by ice, appreciating how powerful Mother Nature is. Getting off at attractions along the way. Everyone takes the same picture on their camera phones, or take selfies as proof that they were once there; but were they actually “there” to notice the broken fences opposite the lake and wonder what it is or it was used for. 

Seeing a middle age woman sitting in front of me bursting with her camera phone every five minutes, then showing it to her friend next to her. I start to wonder if they are appreciating the photo that she took or the landscape, if they are appreciating the landscape why not put down the phone and appreciate the reality. A quote from Susan Sontag came to mind - “Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the world-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.” Perhaps, rather than being mindful and actually being there, the action of taking a picture gives them the satisfaction that they did something to appreciate the landscape. After all, they did pay lots of money and spend lots of time traveling to get here.

Another thought that came to my mind was, what would she use those photos for or would she look at all the photos ever again? Traveling and taking pictures is not something new, but I start to wonder what would she do with all those photos - Post them on social media? Show them to family and friends back home? or just as proof that you were once “there”? Canada is one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been to, wherever I point my camera I could use that photo as my wallpaper and I did change my phone wallpaper. It reintroduces my impressions of “photographer”, there are a lot of users on Instagram with lots of followers who take pictures of pretty landscape and call themselves “photographer”. Does having lots of followers and likes certificate themselves as photographers? There is no doubt that the definition of a photographer has changed. As a final year photography student I still struggle to call myself a photographer; I am about the graduated with a BFA in photography, am I officially a “photographer” or just an artist who uses a camera as his tool?

I’ve always been taught not to make photos that everyone else can make, I should make the viewer question when they see my photos. While I was traveling back to Hong Kong, I watched Tate Britain’s Great British Walks on the plane, curator Gus Casely-Hayford walks the landscape that famous historical painter has painted and talks about how significant the painting is to the landscape. It made me realised, by knowing the context of the artist and location would give the viewer another perspective looking at their artwork. This is why I want to start experimenting this concept on social media. I want to see how this writing would help or change the viewer’s perspective on looking at photographs I made in Canada. Would viewers who have read this writing know what I was thinking of that time, change their perspective or would the photos just appear as another millennials photographer posting on Instagram to prove that I was once there?


Whenever we go travel we like to take pictures of everythings we see. In fact, this is how I got into photography at first. At the age of twelve, I bought my first camera when I first went to Australia. It was around 2009, Facebook was starting to get popular at that time, I was thinking I could photograph everything while I was there, post it online and share it with my friends back in Hong Kong. Also, it would be nice to be able to capture what I did while I’m on holidays in Hong Kong, so that I could look at those photos whenever I feel homesick. I had zero knowledge about photography at that time, I don’t know how oprate a camera. It was a Diana F+, all I had to do was to change the three aperture settings to match the time of day and click the shutter. I failed to do that, my first roll of film I only had two or three correct exposures. I slowly learned how to operate the camera, once on a family trip to New York, all three rows of film were all exposed correctly, it was something I’m really proud of at that time. On my thirteenth birthday, my parents bought me a DSLR, with all the trials and errors I started to learn how to operate a camera. Most days after school, I would stay in my room and take pictures of things that are in my room or go walk around in the park and take pictures of things that interested me. 

I was privileged enough that my parents would bring me on a family trip every year, this is where my love for photo taking started. Like most millennials, all I had to do was to take pretty pictures while I’m traveling, do some heavy editing or put a cool filter on it, post it online and get likes. I thought this was what being a photographer was all about, expensive cameras and lens, highly edited photos and lots of followers and likes.

Fast forward to winter of 2017, on a family trip to Canada. It was a two weeks trip, starting out from Vancouver, then to Yellowknife back to Vancouver again and joined a Chinese local tour to Banff. It was our first time in Canada, there were a lot of things we didn’t know, how to commute, where to eat or where to buy stuff. We had some ideas for where we wanted to go but the challenge was how to get there. For me this is what traveling is about; the journey, to experience the place that I’m traveling to and experience a new culture. We did exactly that for the first week and a half.

On the flip side, traveling with a tour is about the destination. When everyone is on the tour bus the journey doesn’t matter, it’s important to get to all the famous destination without any interruption. Being on a tour means that you have no control over what you do. Everything is planned, down to what and how much time you can enjoy your supper, which is reasonable. However what frustrated me is how ethnocentric the tour is; travel halfway across the world to have food that I could have back home.

Traveling thousands of kilometers on a tour bus, looking at scenery that the beautiful British Columbia has offered, endless of glaciers in the far distance, roads covered by ice, appreciating how powerful Mother Nature is. Getting off at attractions along the way. Everyone takes the same picture on their camera phones, or take selfies as proof that they were once there; but were they actually “there” to notice the broken fences opposite the lake and wonder what it is or it was used for. 

Seeing a middle age woman sitting in front of me bursting with her camera phone every five minutes, then showing it to her friend next to her. I start to wonder if they are appreciating the photo that she took or the landscape, if they are appreciating the landscape why not put down the phone and appreciate the reality. A quote from Susan Sontag came to mind - “Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the world-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.” Perhaps, rather than being mindful and actually being there, the action of taking a picture gives them the satisfaction that they did something to appreciate the landscape. After all, they did pay lots of money and spend lots of time traveling to get here.

Another thought that came to my mind was, what would she use those photos for or would she look at all the photos ever again? Traveling and taking pictures is not something new, but I start to wonder what would she do with all those photos - Post them on social media? Show them to family and friends back home? or just as proof that you were once “there”? Canada is one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been to, wherever I point my camera I could use that photo as my wallpaper and I did change my phone wallpaper. It reintroduces my impressions of “photographer”, there are a lot of users on Instagram with lots of followers who take pictures of pretty landscape and call themselves “photographer”. Does having lots of followers and likes certificate themselves as photographers? There is no doubt that the definition of a photographer has changed. As a final year photography student I still struggle to call myself a photographer; I am about the graduated with a BFA in photography, am I officially a “photographer” or just an artist who uses a camera as his tool?

I’ve always been taught not to make photos that everyone else can make, I should make the viewer question when they see my photos. While I was traveling back to Hong Kong, I watched Tate Britain’s Great British Walks on the plane, curator Gus Casely-Hayford walks the landscape that famous historical painters have painted and talked about how significant the painting is to the landscape. It made me realised, by knowing the context of the artist and location would give the viewer another perspective looking at their artwork. This is why I want to start experimenting this concept on social media. I wondering how this writing would help or change the viewer’s perspective on looking at photographs I made in Canada. Would viewers who have read this writing know what I was thinking at that time, change their perspective or would the photos just appear as another millennials photographer posting on Instagram to prove that I was once there?


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