I read a post this morning decrying the influence of social media on travel and photography. The author was complaining (no better term) that now everyone has a good enough camera and means of transportation that they can go to iconic sites and take pictures of themselves there. I get it. I really do.
I got a week off work at the start of July, so I made some last minute plans to travel out into Utah and western Colorado, just for the heck of it. I hit Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Dead Horse Point, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Horshoe Bend, Monument Valley, Mexican Hat, Glen Canyon, Arches, Colorado National Monument, North Clear Creek Falls, and the Great Sand Dunes, all in 4 days. Only at one spot did I feel the way this author did.
There’s a pretty nice arch in Canyonlands, in the Island in the Sky, and it’s heavily trafficked. I arrived near lunchtime, my own fault, and had to wait a few minutes for the area to clear enough for me to snag a few shots (so I could edit out the people in the way). I got a little frustrated, admittedly. It was annoying that all these people were in the way, when I wanted my shot! But the more I thought about it, then and now, I think that author was way off the point.
Photography is no longer primarily an art form for many people. It’s instead an archival process, so we can remember a moment, or a communal event, sharing our lives with our friends when we’re excited and want to let them take part in the cool things we’re seeing.
Shutterfly has a deal every so often for a hundred or so free prints, just pay shipping. (Shutterfly, sponsor me!) I always take advantage of it, because it means I can put more stuff on my walls. As I was sorting through my newest batch of prints, I realized that the ones I really wanted to put up weren’t the best scenic shots, or even ones I’m really proud of. It was instead the ones I took of friends, on hikes with people, or shots that rocketed me back in time to the moment I took it. That struck me, looking through a ton of (objectively very good) photos from the last two years or so.
So in response to photographers (including myself) who complain and whine about how many people get out into the outdoors now, I just want to say this: Chill out, dude.
Not everyone with the ability or desire to take photos is skilled at it. Few in the modern age care about the artistic merit of a pic they snagged in front of a monument or beach. That care is taken by a different group of people, who view and carry themselves as Artists. I would count myself in that group, because I studied the craft, take inspiration from the greats, and practice my workmanship. But I can’t judge the kid taking a selfie at Delicate Arch, because she’s just documenting her own experience there. We arrive at the same location for different reasons.
One person’s selfie is never going to detract from my artistically composed photograph. They exist in the same world, but different areas.
Keep taking selfies. Pose in front of landmarks and monuments. And if someone complains and starts being a crybaby about how you’re ruining the view, just ignore them. It’s your moment.