Savoring visual cuisine

Long ago travelers brought home physical pieces of the lands they'd visited: a marble chunk from a ruin, a sample of the local flora, an article of native clothing. Since the invention of photography, images have largely replaced objects: A click here, a click there, and we fill our photo albums as we stake our personal claim to a particular part of the world.

Today, digital photography has made this process even more immediate. Now we can click and inventory photos almost as fast as we take them. My friends take pictures and we discuss the merits of them in front of the very thing photographed. But I struggle with the idea of "going digital" with my travel photos.

When these same friends see me with my bulky (by today's standards) medium-format camera, taking one picture every few hours, they scratch their heads. To me, though, digital snapshots uncomfortably compress the mental distance between an experience and its representation. We can take photos right and left, up and down - anything is worth a click. What's to lose but a few bits of renewable memory? But with my old film camera, I have only 12 scenes, a dozen items, that I can acquire. It forces me to rate the sights for their worthiness. I take note of locations to which I want to return in order to take a photo at the perfect moment.

My digital friends and I are engaged in the same quest. But while they have an "all you can eat" voucher in a cafeteria of images, I seek out the finest visual restaurants. And when I'm there, I can only afford a very small - but exquisite - dish. Sometimes, as in the case of this image of Moutiers, France, it is enough. But other times, I confess, I leave very hungry.

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