Photography interrupts the joy of discovery and ruins the moment for other travellers, writes Nick Trend.
How much do you rely on photographs to remember your holiday? I have always been bad at taking them. For years I travelled without a camera and I now have one only because it is part of my phone. Our family holidays are well documented because others took photographs but I have virtually no pictures from the many trips I have undertaken on my own.
Do I miss anything as a result? Certainly, I'm glad, through the efforts of others, to have pictures of children growing up, of tanned, happy faces and bright sunlit beaches. And I still enjoy occasionally going through them and relishing the memories. But, even though I have few photographs of the places I have visited, I don't feel I am missing much. I might be completely wrong about this (how could it ever be tested?) but my theory is that we remember things better if we haven't interrupted or compromised the experience by taking a photograph of it.
Here's one example. In 1990, when I went on safari to Kenya and Tanzania for the first time, what amazed me was how incredibly close we could get to the wildlife. I have vivid memories of stopping on a track while three lionesses padded past in the cold half-light just before dawn.
I can picture the dew on the long grasses, I can feel the lingering chill of the African night. I can still visualise the flicking tail of the last lioness as she passed the minibus. And I can remember the incessant clicks and the motorised whirrs as the other tourists desperately tried to capture the moment for posterity.
Did they see what I saw? I don't think so. How can you look properly if you are either squinting through a camera lens or always thinking of the next picture?
It seems I am not alone in this feeling. Recently the veteran travel writer Paul Theroux was asked about photography. "I never bring a camera - because taking pictures, I've found, makes me less observant and interferes with my memory, though I realise this is not the case with everyone," he said.
Cameras make tourist-photographers less observant and can spoil things for bystanders. I remember visiting the Taj Mahal some years ago. Not only did most visitors appear to be experiencing the site through a viewfinder but they expected those of us who were not continually on our guard to make sure we were not getting in the way of their picture.
It's bad enough when Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, in London, is dazzled by photographic flashes before a production starts but the attendants have to be on their guard to intervene when members of the audience reach slyly for their cameras to take pictures during the play itself.
Of course, I have to concede that the photographers have a better formal record of events and places than I do. They can have confidence in their images and videos. They know what they saw - or, at least, they know what they photographed. My memory might be playing tricks. Perhaps there were four lionesses. Maybe the flicking tail has been subconsciously elided with a memory of another occasion on the trip. I can't be certain. But does that really matter?
Maybe the photographers' memories are also playing tricks on them. It's easy to think of photographs as an aide-memoire but do you remember taking each of them? I certainly don't. Many are capturing moments I have forgotten. I recognise the scene and the people, of course, but I'm not sure I really remember experiencing the moment itself.
I think photography stops you looking properly and interrupts the emotional experience of seeing new and exciting things. The syndrome has been intensified by digital cameras. Now you don't even look through a lens at your subject; you look at an electronic display screen.
And when you have taken your picture, you have to keep looking at that screen to make sure the image has captured the memory in an acceptable way. Perhaps Sanjiv had his eyes closed at a crucial moment in front of the Taj Mahal. If he did, the whole process has to start again.
As for video cameras, they are even more problematic. Do you watch your daughter's first slalom race at the end of the ski holiday with your own eyes, or look at it through a lens? Many parents do the latter. The daughter does well, she gets a nice film of herself as well as an uninterrupted memory of winning/losing/falling over. But the parent has missed the magic of the moment.
What started me on this rant was seeing the "travel and topography" section of an exhibition at Tate Britain gallery on the history of watercolours, including many produced by people who, before photography was widespread, were trying to record what they saw as they toured Britain and Europe.
The scenes captured by these 18th- and 19th-century travellers are classic tourist sights. They range from J. M. W. Turner's mysterious, mist-shrouded views of Mount Rigi, on the far side of Lake Lucerne, to paintings by lesser-known artists: Thomas Girtin's account of Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland; Richard Dadd's sea view in Rhodes; Richard Parkes Bonington's image of the Piazza delle Erbe in Verona.
Like most watercolours, these are not painstakingly detailed accounts but free, spontaneous works. Even so, the point about the creation of such pictures is the intense observation they require - and that process happens even before the painting starts. The painter has to decide on the view, set up the easel or pad and settle down to look.
Far from interrupting their experiences by recording them, these travellers were intensifying the moment and, presumably, therefore, their own memories. They had time, of course - too expensive an option for most of us in the 21st century.
What's more, few of us can paint or sketch. But I wonder if we wouldn't see more, and forget less, if we tried to wean ourselves off the tyranny of the camera.
Watercolour shows at Tate Britain in London until August 21, tate.org.uk.
- Telegraph, London