How do you define a picture? Well first of all, there are many things than can be defined as a “picture.” Whether it be a drawing made by a kindergartener, a photograph in National Geographic, a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, or even an ancient rock engraving at Twyfelfontein. However different all these types of pictures may be, there will always be a single uniting factor: a story is being told.
Prior to this trip, I don’t think I could fully tell you how to use every iPhone camera setting. That being said, there is no way I could have told you how my aperture was set for a picture, why I changed my white balance, or the definition of Bokeh. In just three short weeks we’ve mastered the basics of photography and are able to use photographic language to convey WHY we’re using these camera settings. But why are we taking the picture? We’re telling a story. We’re telling a story for ourselves. We’re telling a story for our friends. We’re telling a story for our parents and everyone else back home, who won’t understand the Sossusvlei dunes or the proximity of the lions at Na’ankuse.
There is one piece to the puzzle that is not there for those viewing the pictures after the fact. I came to a conclusion when I made a trip to the Grand Canyon two years ago. The pictures I saw in textbooks did not prepare me at all for the enormity of the Grand Canyon when it was right in front of me. Likewise, when I showed my mom pictures upon my return I could tell she couldn’t quite grasp the fact that it looks nothing like the photos; they just don’t compare. It’s just a catch to photography that the photographer will always have the full story, because they experienced the picture and everything around it. Everyone else will only get a glimpse of that moment, but it is up to the photographer to capture as much of the moment as possible.
On another level, this study abroad group has a special connection to all the things we have experienced and photographed together. Experiencing these things with the other people on the trip will be something we’ll always have in common and it is up to all of us to try to convey those experiences to our loved ones. The full story and the whole experience will always remain in our memories; memories that we shared together. So sure, a picture may be worth a thousand words, and our families are going to crowd around to see them upon our return, but only we remember the full effect of the images. Only we remember how the lions’ hunger gave us goose-bumps, and how the sounds of the Damara people singing made us jump up and join in their dance. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the real experience and memories are worth a whole lot more.