Why and How our favorite Seasonals use photos to document their travels
he environmental philosopher John Muir was 29 when, after a work accident that almost blinded him, he determined to "be true to [himself]" and follow his dreams of botany and adventuring.
The American naturalist and author Terri Irwin was 28 when she spent her honeymoon trapping crocodiles with her husband. The film footage from that trip was used to make the first episode of The Crocodile Hunter.
The photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams was 25 when he took his photography equipment on a four thousand foot climb through heavy snow to take one of his most famous photos: Monolith, the Face of Half Dome. He first took a picture with a yellow filter but then decided to take one with a darker red filter to cause the sky and rock to look darker in the finished photo than it was in reality. He called this moment his first “visualization,” or attempt to capture the emotion of the moment along with the photograph.
Turning a moment in space and time into a feeling or a learning experience for thousands of people who weren’t there is an art form. And although the number of pictures that have ever been taken is doubling every year, I’m happy to say that its a thriving art form. My question has always been, “what exactly did the artist want me to get out of it?” Although an Instagram or Facebook post can be beautiful and make me feel a certain kind of feeling, I had never seen a direct dialogue about intent between the artists and the audience vicariously living through them. So I tracked down some of The Seasonal’s favorite social media travel sharers and I asked them. How? And most importantly, why?
The boat slowly creeps up the Mekong in Laos. I’m hanging off the side so I can feel the sunshine on my face. This definitely isn't’ the safest way to sit but the unfazed crew has let us slide with the worst these past couple of days. My new friends are steadily depleting our worthy stock of cheap Thai whiskey. A cute girl swings off the side of the rail to hang off the edge with me. She says something about the gorgeous setting sun. But all I can notice is the way her face glows as the cliffs of the river float past her.
I peek down towards the group. Ulf, a wild Swedish guy that I’ve been traveling with for 4 cities, calls for us to climb back in the boat and swig some whiskey. And like that the moment is gone. But what do I have from it besides the pounding headache as I wake up late the next day in a small riverside village? What I do have is a snap shot drunkenly taken on my iPhone after I crawled back in. I add “Valencia” and some contrast to that bad boy and post it. It’s the
absolute beauty of this time and age. Someone’s Instagram can show you their entire personality, what makes them tick and the people and things that they adore. It can also be used for the occasional “flex”. But as a traveler, I feel the post goes a little deeper. It’s more about a moment, those rare moments, the ones you never want lost.
When Joey asked me why I share and post, it took me a good couple of weeks of getting deep into this trip to realize there is more beyond the “flexin’”. I wanted to immortalize the moments where I felt my life and my soul in synch. I’ve been living out of a backpack for the past four years, whether in different countries or while working on my boat. I continue to post, and like everyone else I look back on my own pictures.
But for me, each image gives me a rush from a time I felt immortal.
I am a firm believer in the emotional and spiritual therapy of nature. Unfortunately, due to the societal norms expected of us, we tend to miss out on this indelibility. Instead of allowing our souls to be washed clean by this magical effect of nature, we often find ourselves stuck in the grind during the week and playing catch-up on the weekends, saying, “Maybe next week I’ll get outside.” Before we know it, months have gone by and we can’t even find our hiking boots.
My intention when it comes to sharing my travels is twofold.
I use Instagram to share photos of my favorite adventures and outdoor locations with the hope that those who see my photos will feel inspired to adventure out as well.
Secondly, I want those people to know how easy it is to attain this beauty. I often hear, “I wish I could go to such beautiful places!” The reality is, anyone can. It’s just a matter of making it a priority. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.
One of my favorite instances that I was captured and shared with the IG community was following a 12 hour drive after which I arrived at a hidden hot spring in the middle of nowhere. The sky was so full of stars I could only stare, jaw dropped to the ground. It was so quiet out there my ears rang. The moment was precious as my tiny existence fell into perspective.
The easiest way to share my travel stories, encounters, and experiences is through images. Images which are rarely staged, shot in deadpan perspective, large and wide angled format. I would prefer my images to be printed greater than 30” and hung objectively in a plain white room if I had the means. Perhaps it’s my schooling in fine art photography and years of admiring landscape artists like Edward Burtynsky, William Eggleston, and Steven Shore for their beautiful images and important conceptual history.
There was a time I felt the need to establish myself as a contemporary photographer but I decided I’d rather just spend my youth aimlessly wandering.
For now with resources limited to a mid-range DSLR and commonplace social media sharing platforms, my images and their brief captions are meagerly hung on the white walls of Instagram one thousand times smaller than intended upon conception. The photos sometimes tell of a journey, experience, or location, in the physical or social landscape. They’re sometimes surreal and conceptual scenes of social commentary but often times a blank snapshot desperate for interpretation in what longs to be artistic. This artistic sense feels missing due to the inherent nature of glutinously consumed digital social media but one could argue it’s far less pretentious and more superficial than the art world.
Since losing sense of my artistic outlet I now I distribute my images via Instagram and Facebook. Each shot or series of photographs carefully composed and curated usually accompanied with a documentarian description informing the viewer, hopefully, of something I find unique enough to share. I may distribute an interesting natural landscape of compelling beauty or socio-cultural landmark.
Instagram helps me connect with friends of past and present while also helping others interested in my aesthetic through a vague hashtag system. It’s easy to consider success by “likes” and I can usually predict which images will be the popular ones. Waterfalls of Oregon, aurora borealis streaks in Alaska, tropical beaches, or exotic animals are a sure shot way to get the attention of many seeking and expecting that beautiful scene from a traveler in a faraway land. While I love placing these images into the feed of my friends and family, it’s not the primary reason I shoot and far from what I consider successful.
The most impacting images to me start conversations, and knowing that my followers are wondering where I am and why I would go there are the reason I’ve adopted the nomad lifestyle. Images like Kerobokan Beach in Bali covered in litter or contorted bodies held rigid against a rockwall climbing for their first time in Alaska are less easily scrolled through and liked, perhaps harder to breeze by in a gallery. Classic compositional or technical exercises exist in my image grid to highlight a place or a view that’s simply irresistible to share.
Ultimately it comes down to the places I go and the things I do which is an unfortunate cliche in social media usage. Projecting my images onto the audience for me acts as a creative outlet, status update, self-criticism exercise, and if anything important, at least an inspiration.
When I was nineteen, I came to Alaska, for the first time and cried in a Fred Meyer’s parking lot as I held onto my groceries and a gaze towards the Chugach Mountains. Later that day, I would drive to the small town of Glennallen where I worked and played that summer, and I cried once more in the parking lot of The Hub gas station as I stared up at the Wrangell Mountains and felt the beginnings of feeling good.
Up until then, life was seemingly traumatizing. I was nineteen, depressed since childhood, with my eyes to the ground and an apology for every breath. It was that summer I chose to go that the Wrangell Mountains changed the entire trajectory of my life. Since then, I have kept going, and I have cried in a lot of parking lots in a lot of different places, overwhelmed by the long-awaited relief of feeling happy.
My heart aches for anyone who is treating their life as the interim time, waiting for someone to tell them it is okay to buy that plane ticket, to pack up their car, to quit that job. I hope by sharing images and words via social media, I am able to help others feel empowered to say their dreams aloud and stop feeling shame over wanting more than a comfy office chair or two weeks vacation time.
After drowning in mental misery for what seemed a million years, I finally have the privilege of inhaling this world, and I want others to grasp and gasp for it too. I want to spit out that tired notion of success in favor of feeding my own soul, and I want the world to watch and drool and say, “Well, shit, let’s eat some of those wild berries.”
So here I am, twenty-three and just trying to convert the world, one Instagram post at a time, to this hip new religion where we worship each day by looking up, reaching out, and sometimes crying in parking lots.