At the alarming rate of destruction and wanton littering and waste that is happening globally, is it time for us as photographers to stop publicly announcing the location of our shoots?
The world is there for us all to explore and discover new places or for us as photographers to get the bucket shot and then go on to explore and try to get a unique perspective on any area we travel to. Posting pics as we go, beautiful scenery in abundance, stunning sunsets/sunrises, unique vantage points, then sharing on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or wherever. Showing the eyes of the internet what a beautiful world we live in. Some people will never get the chance to visit some of the places, so seeing them captured as a photograph will allow them to see what a beautiful world this really is. This is what we do. We don't do it for acclaim, we do it for passion. We do it because photography is our passion and we enjoy exploring, discovering, and putting into practice what we are learning. Perhaps it's your hobby, perhaps your profession, but it's something you love to do. So, why are we, in a way, being punished for our passion with more and more restrictions being put in place?
So, you are heading to (insert country name here) in a few month's time for a vacation. You are planning to visit all the bucket shot locations. Where do you turn to for photographs of the destination to research? I'm going to hazard a guess here and say Instagram hashtags. And quite rightly so. I do the same myself. But, here's the thing: so does everyone else. Now, I'm not saying that no one else should visit these locations except for photographers; the world belongs to us all. What I am asking is: how do we transform the thought process when visiting locations? The logical answer seems to be by educating people about destruction, littering, campfires, and leaving no trace. How that is done, though? I really wish I had the answer, I really do. It is a minority that is to blame, and it's this minority that is causing restrictions for everyone, not just photographers.
How can we find a location if the location can't be hashtagged?
What did we do before that? We'd research the countries that we were visiting via other methods, and I'm sure you did that as well. So, how do we as photographers slow down the onslaught of destruction at these locations when others are not as thoughtful? Do we stop hashtagging the exact location and just mention the country? Take Iceland’s majestic Fjadrárgljúfur Canyon for example. After a pop video was made there by a musician, the foot traffic nearly doubled there in 2017/18, causing damage to the local pathways and vegetation, which in turn led to the canyon being closed for two weeks in March by Iceland's Environmental Agency, then later extended until June 2019. Prior to all of this, the canyon was really only visited by locals and adventurous tourists.
Now, that is not the musician's fault by any means, as I'm sure permission was sought and granted to film there in the first place. The blame, in my opinion, lies with the uneducated and disrespectful tourists who traveled there — uneducated and disrespectful from the point of view that the focus was where the video had been shot and not the surrounding environment and the damage being caused. That is a very sweeping statement, and I am tarring everyone with the same brush, but it's just to get the point across. I have traveled to some filming locations that I wanted to photograph, took my photographs, been aware of the environment, and hopefully left no trace.
What Can We Do?
Ultimately, I've hit a full stop here. I wish I knew the answer. Logically, it's through education, but not everyone is open to that. So, is there anything that we can do to even start to mend the damage that has been done? I don't mean literally. I mean, is there anything we can do as photographers? When we share our photos, should we just mention the country and not the location? I personally love exploring Google Earth for the countries I am going to visit, and yes, that's after searching hashtags. But I love the excitement of that as it feels to be a part of the process, the planning, and the discovery.
As of 2018, over 50 billion photos have been shared on Instagram since its inception, and with an average daily user count of around 500 million, I'm sure there are enough location hashtags to last a lifetime. Everyone knows the iconic places and everyone wants a piece of the photo action in the form of a selfie at the location, as photos with faces get 38% more likes. I mention Instagram here only because of its popularity and not to appoint blame. Personally, I love Instagram and the inspirational images that are there. They really do inspire when looking at locations, and that is in no way a bad thing. Instagram is changing, though, and is not just a photo site anymore. Very recently, Adam Mosseri openly spoke about the changes underway.
The Real Truth
Once it's gone, it's gone.
Noticeably, I haven't tarred any photographers here with the wanton destruction brush. And by that, I'm being in no way elitist. I am only thinking that instead of adding to the problem, we help, even in a small way, to abate it. But what can we do? I wish I had an answer, but that's the reason for the article, to cause a debate, and hopefully, someone will have an idea of what can be achieved if we work together.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, as I'm sure someone will have an educated, long-lasting idea on how we can help to solve this problem and perhaps heal the damage that is being done.