Since doing landscape photography I have found one thing come up as a common occurrence. How you imagine somewhere isn’t always how it realy is. Okay so that probably doesn’t make much sense so I’ll try and put it into context. I was down in Dorset to celebrate my parents golden wedding anniversary one weekend and I’d recently found out that a hill famous from the Hovis bread commercials of old was in a town nearby. For those interested, it’s Gold Hill in Shaftsbury, UK. So on the way back to Bristol we stopped at Shaftsbury so I could take some photos as the evening drew in.
In my head I had imagined that the town centre would be at the bottom of the hill, so as we walked through the town we’d have the ascent to get to the top to then take photos looking back down. As it turns out this isn’t the case. When you get to a corner in the High Street just by St Peters church there is a second building with pathways past either side. Take either of these and you come out at the top of Gold Hill. I would have never thought from looking at the pictures that I’d seen for so many years that the top of the hill would have had such a discrete, for want of a better word, starting point.
When you watch the 1973 advert back (https://youtu.be/8eT_cQHgIDs), or better still watch the Two Ronnies (https://youtu.be/DJi_5T0jSnA) version, you see the boy pushing the bike up the hill to deliver the bread at the top, you now think, why didn’t you come from the high street and drop it off, then free wheel down the hill after?
Another example of imagination vs reality is the Trevi Fountain in Rome (www.trevifountain.net). A beautiful water feature that I had always imagined being in quite an open Piazza with cafés with a mixture of loved up couples staring into each other’s eyes or other people sat people watching and watching the world go by, whilst being able to stare at such a wonderful fountain. Reality is a slightly more crammed in piazza, crammed full of tourists all trying to get a picture of the fountain whilst weaving in and out of vendors trying to sell selfie sticks or some kind of LED infested rotor blade that you flick into the air via an elastic band. All saying that, well worth going to see, although when I went, there was scaffolding around it as they were doing repairs/maintenance on it at the time.
Staying in Rome we also have the ceiling in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Such an amazing view and disappointing you’re not allowed to photograph it. Of course, because they’re trying to sell you copies in the gift shop at the end, although I’m sure they’ll tell you that it’s because flash photography will affect the painting, though would be interesting to see something that can confirm this is the case as you see it in a number of places around the world*. You also get a sense of how herds of animals must feel when in auction houses whilst you stand in a very crowded room with a few hundred other people all staring up trying to capture all the detail. Sad thing is that you’re almost desensitised by the hundreds of other paintings and sculptures that are there. If you’re visiting in the evening and been stomping the streets of Rome for most of the day then you’re going to feel pretty tired and not really appreciate the wonder of the artwork and the difficulties that Michelangelo faced painting upside down for so long.
Paris, France, and the Mona Lisa, a fantastic painting based on its history, yet I’ll bet one thing that crosses your mind when you see it is “I’d imagined it to be bigger”. This is can be said of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Denmark, though I guess the clue is in the name. I remember visiting and the way I’d seen pictures of it in the past I’d imagined it to be two or three times the size. Still it, again, is worth a visit if you’re in that neck of the woods.
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Although I never got to see the Falls from the US side I would say this is the better side as you can see all the falls in their entirety. Down by the waters edge and the view point it’s a beautiful location, all I can say is, rather than go up into the town (unless you’re going to get some poutine) get in the car and head out to Niagara on the Lake instead. A much nicer town visually to visit, plus you have some vineyards nearby and can get some ice wine.
Saying all this, however it can work differently. Cities such as Philadelphia and Washington DC both impressed after having an opinion of “I wouldn’t be too worried if I didn’t get to go there”. Philadelphia’s history is nicely spread out and so much to do whatever you’re interests are. Whilst Washington really shocked. The Mall where the monuments are predominantly located is just massive, a lot larger than I’d imagined, with so many museums, and even if you’re not a history buff the Statue of Abe Lincoln is something you can understand why people stand in awe at. My wife and I had realised that there was so much more there that we wanted to see than we’d given credit for.
New York I’ve always had a love for and always will it met expectations and then exceeded them. However I still enjoy nothing more than a 40minute train ride up the Hudson and visit the towns upstate or an hour’s journey out to Long Island and you’re away from the madness and chaos of Manhattan Island itself.
As I digress from the original point I was making it comes down to this. Try not to get caught up in a romantic idealism of a location or build up hope for it to be something truly amazing, when you go somewhere soak up what is around you and what you went there for. Don’t fixate as to how it compared to what you’d imagined. Stand/sit there and live in the present, don’t focus on the past or think about the future, enjoy what is in front of you at that moment.
*According to the article from Art History News, (https://www.arthistorynews.com/articles/2936_Does_flash_photography_really_damage_paintings), it would appear not. Perhaps it’s more of a behavioural thing, and maybe to avoid anybody susceptible to epilepsy from having a seizure if there’s lots of flashing going off at a high regularity.