Often people will tell me “I don’t need to travel to see the world; I can see it through pictures.”As a photographer, I should be grateful for this attitude, as it provides a potential market for my own work. However, as a photographer who travels, I am acutely aware of how little a photograph really conveys. A photograph can never substitute for experience.
I’d seen pictures from Egyptian tombs many times. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about the brightly painted tombs of the pharaohs and I recall wanting very much to see the tomb of Nefertari, claimed to be the most beautiful of all tombs. (Not to be confused with the tomb of Nefertiti, who is claimed to be the most beautiful woman of ancient Egypt, but whose tomb appears to have not been discovered). This means I should have known the walls of the tombs would be awash with boldly colored paintings.
However, seeing something in a picture isn’t the same as actually experiencing it and, somehow, it never occurred to me that the tombs would actually look like the pictures. I was shocked (and absolutely delighted) by the brilliant images I discovered inside. Photos can’t convey what is like to be completely surrounded by these lively images — it’s joyous, overwhelming, serene, and a little creepy all at once. Nor do photos provide a true sense of context, which in this case includes the stark contrast between the vibrant interior of the tombs and the barren, nearly colorless hills in which they are hidden.
It was incredible to step into the tombs and suddenly be transported to another world — an experience beyond what any photograph can capture.