When I look up from the screen while I’m writing this, I’m looking out over a Ligurian valley. The surrounding green hills stretch towards the blue Mediterranean. Today is too cold for swimming so we’ve decided not to drive down the narrow twisting road but to stay and enjoy the magnificent view from the terrace of our summerhouse. I’d love to photograph how beautiful it is, but I don’t. I’m worried that I won’t be able to capture the impressiveness of the view.
When I was younger, I’d often get a disposable camera to take with me on trips. Getting home and having the film developed, the bland photos oftentimes disappointed. Not much has changed since. Now still, most of the photographs I take on holiday are simply mementos. They’re holiday snaps after all.
The thing with holiday photography is that the photos hardly ever supersede cliché imagery. The feeling that gives me, has been aptly described by the brilliant Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as Vemödalen, a contamination of the Swedish vemod (melancholy) and Vemdalen, a town whose name could also be an Ikea product:
n. the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist—the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye—which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.
But there’s a paradox to holiday photographs. Even though they might be cliché or have a composition that is off, I love looking through them. They make my mind wander back to the terrific experiences I’ve had.
Looking at holiday photos takes me right back to the smell of Jardin du Luxembourg, the pressing weight of the air after a scorching summer’s day in Korea or to the sound of an Italian sea breeze.
Just like the sun pleasantly enveloping the terrace where I’m sitting now, the entailing flood of memories provides a warm glow of contentment.
So perhaps I should be less critical of holiday photos and be more contented. Yes, I have a couple of days left here in Italy, and I think that’s exactly what I’ll do. Now where did I leave that glass of wine…