Proof in Photography

by Nic Olson

I wrote this on a balcony in Zacatecas, Mexico. Here is proof:

When photography becomes solely a means to prove that an event occurred, or to prove that a person attended an event, it becomes desperate. A desperate attempt at remembering an object, a time, or a place, as if your memory or your word wasn’t enough to give witness to the fact that you had been there.

The feeling of obligation to take a photo, simply because it is something that people would usually take a photo of, is absurd. That feeling, like when you see a dog with a hat on, or a tree eleven metres wide, or monkey picking his nose, or an Asian man with a beard, is wrong, regardless of whether or not it would make a great photograph. I hope that my photography, as well as my words, do more than simply document events in order to prove to readers that I was in Mexico. It should be done for more than just to prove to myself that I wasn’t just watching Breaking Bad in different hostels throughout the country. It should be done to share the sights and ideas that were present at the time of travel. To express a mood or a feeling. Proof is not a feeling.

The point-and-shoot. Bar photos and 8 megapixels of iPhone Instagram wonder, are proof catchers. Great dumps, Sharpie drawn caricatures on passed out faces, spelling mistakes in newspapers, quick happening moments, all need to be caught, stored, and filed, but only if they are done without that desperation of notoriety. Proof that I was at a bar last Friday, proof that I did indeed see the Royal Couple wave mindlessly, proof that I have a rash, is a desperate exhibitionism. Proof is desperate. Desperation is ugly.

Proof, whether of a murder, the existence of God, the absence of God, or who took the last cookie, is desperate. That is not to say that the proof is unnecessary. A detective trying to prove a man guilty of a crime is desperate for evidence. A believer trying to prove the existence of God is desperate so that his faith is well-founded. A nonbeliever searching for proof in the absence of God is equally as desperate. Proof is not a part of the great idea of sharing. It is exclusive and lonely.

I constantly try to prove to myself that I travel well. That I see everything I can with the least amount of money. I take photos to prove that I did see many places in my travels, as if it really mattered anyway. I am desperate to feel good about sitting around in hostels and spending money on beer, while everyone I know works and struggles through life. And I feel ugly because of it.

The times I feel most comfortable with my travels is when I do it without trying to prove anything to myself, to my fellow travellers, to the unfortunately employed back home. The times I feel the best, is when I am sharing ideas, feelings, moods, photographs, beers, meals and stories with friends here and there, without the desperation of proving something.

I will now prove to you that I am having a good time and living my days to the fullest, by going to find some tacos. They always make me forget about everything else. Forget about the soulless and distressed need of proof.

The proof is in the tacos.