Last week, Wall Arch in Arches National Park, Utah collapsed. This is one of those places photographers loved to visit. I personally made images there four times.

I distinctly remember one of my associates remarking to me that photographing such places was a waste of time. He said “been there – done that – everyone has that picture.”

Oh really? Well not anymore. Nobody will ever again take that picture. The opportunity is gone for good. These arches took millions of years to form, but they take only seconds to fall. And when landmarks like these are gone – they are gone.

Whether it was the Twin Towers in New York City, the Landscape Arch, also at Arches National Park, the famed West Side Road in Mt. Rainier National Park or just some local historic building that’s since been destroyed, passing on an opportunity to photograph an icon may be a big mistake.

While other people before you may have made a nice image there, that doesn’t mean they’d make the very same image you would make. More importantly, there is another important distinction.

Your photograph, made using your effort, gear, artistic eye and skill is yours and yours alone…as is the special memory of having been there and done that yourself.

Join the conversation! 48 Comments

  1. I really like this sentiment. It is something I try to keep in mind whenever I’m at a location – so what if other people have taken this image? The one I take is mine! It reminds me that part of photography is the photographer. Sometimes the story is behind the camera. What does the image taken say about the photographer?

    Thanks for putting it down in words, Scott!

  2. I really like this sentiment. It is something I try to keep in mind whenever I’m at a location – so what if other people have taken this image? The one I take is mine! It reminds me that part of photography is the photographer. Sometimes the story is behind the camera. What does the image taken say about the photographer?

    Thanks for putting it down in words, Scott!

  3. In photographing the railroad scene in the United States for the last twenty years, I know this to be especially true. Quite often I’ve photographed railroad structures and scenes only to return later to find the structures torn down and the scene completely altered. Some friends of mine photographed structures in Waukesha several years ago and the structures were razed a week after their photographs were taken. So, my own mantra is “photograph it today because it’ll be gone tomorrow.”

  4. In photographing the railroad scene in the United States for the last twenty years, I know this to be especially true. Quite often I’ve photographed railroad structures and scenes only to return later to find the structures torn down and the scene completely altered. Some friends of mine photographed structures in Waukesha several years ago and the structures were razed a week after their photographs were taken. So, my own mantra is “photograph it today because it’ll be gone tomorrow.”

  5. Very good point Scott. Thanks for sharing this info and point of view.

  6. Very good point Scott. Thanks for sharing this info and point of view.

  7. I can’t agree with you more! I grew up in New Hampshire where the “Old Man on the Mountain” was iconic (it even graces the license plates there). In 1997, I moved to California. Several years later I heard that the rocks finally fell leaving nothing but an unrecognizable cliff. It was a sad day to hear that news…like an old friend dying. Thanks for all your great work!

  8. I can’t agree with you more! I grew up in New Hampshire where the “Old Man on the Mountain” was iconic (it even graces the license plates there). In 1997, I moved to California. Several years later I heard that the rocks finally fell leaving nothing but an unrecognizable cliff. It was a sad day to hear that news…like an old friend dying. Thanks for all your great work!

  9. This post is really good and meaningful. It’s also kind of emotional, especially that last sentence *sniff*

    Some good advice here.

  10. This post is really good and meaningful. It’s also kind of emotional, especially that last sentence *sniff*

    Some good advice here.

  11. So true! Just consider the Twin Towers–similar tourist attraction for photography, gone in minutes.

  12. So true! Just consider the Twin Towers–similar tourist attraction for photography, gone in minutes.

  13. I couldn’t agree more. Because when it’s gone, it’s the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” saying.

  14. I couldn’t agree more. Because when it’s gone, it’s the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” saying.

  15. That’s sad, I never got that picture.

  16. That’s sad, I never got that picture.

  17. Excellent post. A friend at work was just showing me pictures of the very same arch about two weeks ago. Now that it is gone, it definitely means something to him that he was there and has a picture that he took himself.

  18. Excellent post. A friend at work was just showing me pictures of the very same arch about two weeks ago. Now that it is gone, it definitely means something to him that he was there and has a picture that he took himself.

  19. [...] Bourne from TWIP posted a new article about photographing icons – not the American Idols, but those around us. He used the collapse of the natural bridge, Wall [...]

  20. [...] Bourne from TWIP posted a new article about photographing icons – not the American Idols, but those around us. He used the collapse of the natural bridge, Wall [...]

  21. Oh NO!!!!! And I just moved out west – was looking forward to a Utah trip to capture this myself. I am so bummed! However, as you said, it just shows that nothing is permanent, and we should take every opportunity to capture a moment that we can – very eloquently said, Scott.

  22. Oh NO!!!!! And I just moved out west – was looking forward to a Utah trip to capture this myself. I am so bummed! However, as you said, it just shows that nothing is permanent, and we should take every opportunity to capture a moment that we can – very eloquently said, Scott.

  23. I agree, Scott! It’s too bad that there are things that you can’t not photograph, and you can’t make the excuse that your batteries are dead.

    BJ

  24. I agree, Scott! It’s too bad that there are things that you can’t not photograph, and you can’t make the excuse that your batteries are dead.

    BJ

  25. Some walk through life and others run but when we both get to the end and we all will the walker always wins with their experiences.
    I was there in May on a workshop and heard the same thing from some in the workshop. Hard to believe but true.
    Great piece Scott

  26. Some walk through life and others run but when we both get to the end and we all will the walker always wins with their experiences.
    I was there in May on a workshop and heard the same thing from some in the workshop. Hard to believe but true.
    Great piece Scott

  27. Speaking as somebody who was motivated to get into photography specifically as a direct result of watching his favorite childhood landmarks bulldozed to make way for strip malls, I couldn’t agree with you more Scott!

  28. Speaking as somebody who was motivated to get into photography specifically as a direct result of watching his favorite childhood landmarks bulldozed to make way for strip malls, I couldn’t agree with you more Scott!

  29. How true Scott, While natural landforms tend to last a long time, man made things fall a bit quicker whether through neglect or the wrecking ball. I have an image that’s been in and out of explore for the last two years; it’s just an old rusty sign but that sign is now gone. So I think it’s important to document things that are sort of everyday. The time will come when somebody will want to remember what was there.

  30. How true Scott, While natural landforms tend to last a long time, man made things fall a bit quicker whether through neglect or the wrecking ball. I have an image that’s been in and out of explore for the last two years; it’s just an old rusty sign but that sign is now gone. So I think it’s important to document things that are sort of everyday. The time will come when somebody will want to remember what was there.

  31. Though it’s been said many times already…well said and I totally agree. I don’t care if I’m standing on the same viewing platform as thousands of others have before me. It’s my photo. I thought this the entire time I drove the Great Ocean Road in Australia. Especially when we saw what was left of the 12 Apostles and London Bridge rock formations. Same exact thing has been happening there…they fall over or get swallowed up by the ocean.
    A waterfall near where I grew up is nothing but fast moving water now due to the rocks moving, but I have photos of it from its prime.
    Again, great comments here.

  32. Though it’s been said many times already…well said and I totally agree. I don’t care if I’m standing on the same viewing platform as thousands of others have before me. It’s my photo. I thought this the entire time I drove the Great Ocean Road in Australia. Especially when we saw what was left of the 12 Apostles and London Bridge rock formations. Same exact thing has been happening there…they fall over or get swallowed up by the ocean.
    A waterfall near where I grew up is nothing but fast moving water now due to the rocks moving, but I have photos of it from its prime.
    Again, great comments here.

  33. Excellent post! This is the reason why you must always shoot. Take those photos because they do matter.

  34. Excellent post! This is the reason why you must always shoot. Take those photos because they do matter.

  35. Hear, hear! I recently took a trip to Washington, DC, and photographed many icons and even though there are millions like them, these are my photographs, my memories and my vision of them.

    I morn the fact I will never see the Wall Arch in person but rejoice in the fact I’ve seen it through the eyes of those who were lucky enough to photography it and share with the rest of us.

    Great article!

  36. Hear, hear! I recently took a trip to Washington, DC, and photographed many icons and even though there are millions like them, these are my photographs, my memories and my vision of them.

    I morn the fact I will never see the Wall Arch in person but rejoice in the fact I’ve seen it through the eyes of those who were lucky enough to photography it and share with the rest of us.

    Great article!

  37. I was at arches last year briefly and didn’t get a shot of that arch; now I wish I had…

  38. I was at arches last year briefly and didn’t get a shot of that arch; now I wish I had…

  39. Those of us living in NH know this all too well. Our famous landmark icon The Old Man Of The Mountain collapsed in 2003. The famous profile can be seen on the back of the NH quarter, our license plates and just about every “I visited NH” tourist t-shirt. I never got to photograph it and now I never will. :(

  40. Those of us living in NH know this all too well. Our famous landmark icon The Old Man Of The Mountain collapsed in 2003. The famous profile can be seen on the back of the NH quarter, our license plates and just about every “I visited NH” tourist t-shirt. I never got to photograph it and now I never will. :(

  41. The wife (and principal photographer) had an assignment for a photojournalism class she took as an employee (now former) of the University of Miami. It was a group project to take photos of the Orange Bowl on the day the last game was played there. She got the pre-sunrise to noon shift and she got a nice shot of the sun rising over the orange bowl. I cleaned out the phone wires, trash cans and its a nice shot. I drove by there recently and the thing is razed. That place is historic and I’ve attended dozens of U of M games there, so I agree with Scott 100% on this one.

  42. The wife (and principal photographer) had an assignment for a photojournalism class she took as an employee (now former) of the University of Miami. It was a group project to take photos of the Orange Bowl on the day the last game was played there. She got the pre-sunrise to noon shift and she got a nice shot of the sun rising over the orange bowl. I cleaned out the phone wires, trash cans and its a nice shot. I drove by there recently and the thing is razed. That place is historic and I’ve attended dozens of U of M games there, so I agree with Scott 100% on this one.

  43. Wonderful point, I have added that point of view to my sub-consciousness. I have actually passed on photos before.

  44. Wonderful point, I have added that point of view to my sub-consciousness. I have actually passed on photos before.

  45. Two instances come to mind of opportunities now gone. The Natural Bridge in Aruba collapsed last year. My girlfriend and I had been there a few times, walked on it, and photographed it. We were both saddened when it collapsed.
    Byberry, in Northeast Philadelphia, was once the country’s largest psychiatric hospital. When it closed in the early 80s one of the many buildings on the complex was used as a haunted house by a local high school. It quickly fell to disrepair and vandals. A few years ago I returned to photograph it – as much as I could before the security guards might find me. There was a movement to preserve it as a stabilized ruin and a historic site, but it failed. The buildings are gone now and a housing development for seniors stands in its place. I have a few hundred photos to remind me of what was once there.

  46. Two instances come to mind of opportunities now gone. The Natural Bridge in Aruba collapsed last year. My girlfriend and I had been there a few times, walked on it, and photographed it. We were both saddened when it collapsed.
    Byberry, in Northeast Philadelphia, was once the country’s largest psychiatric hospital. When it closed in the early 80s one of the many buildings on the complex was used as a haunted house by a local high school. It quickly fell to disrepair and vandals. A few years ago I returned to photograph it – as much as I could before the security guards might find me. There was a movement to preserve it as a stabilized ruin and a historic site, but it failed. The buildings are gone now and a housing development for seniors stands in its place. I have a few hundred photos to remind me of what was once there.

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