Ian Macmillan: Put the camera away for a clearer picture

AS I stroll around Yorkshire's many beauty spots, I often wonder how many times over the years I've ended up at the edges of other people's photographs.

Amateur snappers from Staines to Mold (twin towns, as you know) are downloading their pictures on to their laptops or, if they're old fashioned, sticking them into an album, and they're all wondering aloud about the bloke with the grey quiff and the smudged glasses, scurrying out of the frame like the green man on a crossing light.

Who is he? How has he ended up as a footnote to our holidays? Why didn't I notice him at the time and wait until he'd walked past?

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The thing is, because everybody is taking pictures all the time, it's hard to keep out of them. Like it or not, you're an exhibit in a gallery that never closes its doors.

Forget being tracked around a city centre by CCTV; my wander through York could be recreated by making a spread of tourist photographs.

There I am, coming out of the station in front of that family posing still as stones; I'm by the river, glancing at a newspaper and almost walking into the serious-looking girl leaning on the wall as she gazes into the lens; that's my foot just leaving the frame of that photo of the couple from Russia and their dog.

We're not just talking about still photographs, of course; a day out anywhere vaguely visitable ends up with you being an extra in a million crowd scenes, from the Eiffel Tower to Maltby Crags.

Imagine visitors coming from Mars to have a look at us and draw conclusions with special Martian conclusion-drawing pencils made

of Martianite.

They'd assume that there was something wrong with our eyes or that we were permanently lost; why else would we walk around all the time with strange mechanical devices held up in front of our faces or dangling around our necks ready to snap into position?

I guess we've all noticed the phenomenon that I call the "one-remove tourist"; they'd rather look through a lens at Whitby than at the reality of Whitby. Everything is to be recorded; everything is, like chutney, best if it's stored for later.

Last week, in a fudge shop in Edinburgh, I watched, open-mouthed, as a man made a film of himself buying fudge. Everything he did, from picking up of the fudge to paying for the fudge to closing the door as he left the fudge shop, was done single-handed because the other hand was clutching what people of my age still call a video camera.

Imagine that man back at home, showing his films on his wide-screen TV to a three-piece-suite-full of yawning relatives.

"This is me buying the fudge. Look: I'm paying for the fudge. I know you can only see my hand but I assure

you it's me. That's my hand holding up the different kinds of fudge. There are 15. Isn't that amazing? I've filmed them all.

"Who's the open-mouthed man with the grey quiff and smudged specs? I've no idea."

Several of the relatives will be looking at their watches by this time, dismayed by the fact that the hand-made caption has informed them that the epic they're watching, glassy-eyed, has reached only day four of the 28-day holiday. "Fudge shops of the Highlands" is still to come.

I find that I take the opposite view to all this; taking the camera on holiday is often an afterthought, and after it's been packed, it rarely leaves the bag. Sometimes, we'll get back from somewhere and have a glance at the pictures we've taken but often we won't – after all, I'm not much of a cameraman and my picture of the beach at Bridlington won't be half as well composed as that postcard.

So, this year, my wife and I took a momentous decision, a decision that could be compared to deciding, after many years, not to wear a tie when gardening: we decided to leave the camera at home when we went out, and I can tell you that the simple action of placing a small object back in a drawer has made a sparkling difference to our lives.

We can talk about a place when we get home rather than looking at it on a screen; our memories of that toasted teacake in that little caf in the Dales will be personal and unique, rather than simply being subtitles to a film.

We'll each remember the teacake in a different way, and if we'd have been busy taking photographs of each other spreading butter on the teacake, we'd have missed the bird of prey hanging in the clear blue sky.

Try it: put the camera away. Leave the film-making equipment at home in its box. Experience the thing itself rather than the representation of the thing. Trust me, because I've been on enough photographs to know that they're no substitute for real life.