Does Travel Photography Dilute Our Travel Experience?

Does Travel Photography Dilute Our Travel Experience?

Perhaps it's time to rethink the purpose of travel photography, and how it affects our travel experiences.

Image credit: Cristian Ungureanu

“I sort of scaled Mount Everest today!” remarks one person to another. “No way, but wait, what do you mean, ‘sort of’?” the latter asks. “You know, I saw an Instagram post about it five minutes ago, and it felt almost real.”

Of course, no one actually says that out loud, but the implied meaning behind it is telling. Travel photography is booming; everyone rushes to upload the spoils of their forays into foreign lands on social media. These are impactful sources of travel inspiration for many; they admire the beautiful landscapes and wish they were there, and they add even more destinations to their already burgeoning bucket lists. But, does this trend also have the unwanted side effect of diluting one’s travel experience?

In a previous article, I compared the Age of Discovery against the Age of the Discovered, and one of the joys of the former was the journeying into the unknown — a destination of which you had no idea how it would turn out to be. Today, we literally have the world at our fingertips, and, depending on our diligence on social media and the internet, there is hardly a place left that we have not seen, and that, I believe, takes away half the fun of travelling. After all, there is little point in going to a place that you have already seen more than you should have, even before arriving there.

Travel photography today mostly focuses on the aesthetically pleasing portions of any given place, and as captivating as they may be, it can paint the false impression that every moment there is as rosy as it is depicted. A picture paints a thousand words, but none of them mentions the great lengths it takes to get there, and neither does it pan around to show you the less glamorous side of the area. There are two sides to a coin, and where there is beauty, there is also ugliness. One needs to be realistic about travelling because it is as real as it gets, and wherever one chooses to head to, contrasting traits can be found — in nature’s best, vandalism and pollution; in kind-hearted strangers, petty criminals; in welcoming locals, racists; in undisturbed culture, money-grabbing tourist hotspots.  

An argument that has been brought up quite often is that travellers, in their chase for the perfect photo, fail to adequately enjoy the moment free of distractions. This is partly true. The real headache today does not lie in taking the photo-taking process, but rather the uploading of those photos onto social media. There are explanations for the modern human’s obsession with accumulating ‘likes’, but that is for another article.

Countering a major trend is always going to be difficult. The objective of this article is not to appeal for abstinence, but to seek a middle ground. While there are reasons to believe that there are way too many travel photos all over the internet, it is also unreasonable to suggest that there should be none at all. Certainly, the onus is on us as consumers to filter what we choose to view. The thing about travel inspiration is that it hardly lasts; motivation to travel should be ideally be fuelled by curiosity, not a spur of the moment from looking at a photo or watching a video. Besides, would it not be better, when asked about how your trip went, to tell them, “Why don’t you go there and see for yourself?”

About Author

Benjamin Tan
Benjamin Tan

As a nomad, Benjamin believes his place in the world is not determined by the borders of one country, but by wherever the sweet nectar of exploration tickles his nose. He continually hones his writing in the hopes that his documentation of his journeys can do the beauty of what he witnesses some justice.


Related Posts