"Let's Talk": The Ethics of Travel Photography

"Let's Talk" Series

My View On Modern Travel Photography

"Photographers use their cameras as tools of exploration, passports to inner sanctums, instruments for change. Their images are proof that photography matters—now more than ever." - National Geographic, 2013

I read this fantastic excerpt from a journal piece the other day on the ethics of travel photography and felt compelled to share a few thoughts that have been on my mind as of late:

Travel photography will always remain as my first love -- the raw, the provocative, the contentious, the honest, and the magnificently captive.

Yet -- today's photography has become a cacophony of freeze frames. Instagram, arguably the most popular social media channel for photographic communication, has given travel photography a whole new meaning. Much of what I see has become a disappointing array of self-indulgent activity (myself included, don't get me wrong).

To illustrate my point more vividly, I have a story. A few mornings ago I had watched a stranger's travel video on YouTube to Belize, a country I have personally traveled to not long ago. [[Mind you -- this guy claims to be a "traveling photographer / videographer", he's not just some Joe Blow dude with a camera wishing to capture his memories. He's got a fairly decent following. He will remain anonymous]] I was immensely excited to see what they had to share -- afterall, the country is very small and I became eager to see if we had any similar travel plans. Nonetheless, I felt a lump in my throat. The video, although beautifully executed, was to the background of some crazy ass (pardon my french) dubstep music with ZERO, I repeat, ZERO cultural significance. Not once did I see a local's friendly smile, the details of a local town/village, or even a traditional Belizian or Grufina meal. The video was a mere three minutes of white girls in their bikini's drinking some fruity cocktail on the beach 30+ miles outside the mainland on a resort. Big whoop? I know many people enjoy this type of content, but frankly, I just can't get into it.

The power of social media and the internet is real, very real. Photographers this day in age hold the power to influence thousands of communities across the globe with just one click of a button. THAT'S HUGE. Modern visual communication fosters an exciting and meaningful way to create social change. Those who take photos while participating abroad have an ethical responsibility to preserve the dignity of their subjects and provide a faithful, comprehensive visual depiction of their surroundings.

I hope to be better about this within my own work. I never want it to seem that I only aim to "impress" my audience with "all the cool shit I do and all the cool places I go!". Travel is much more to than that to me and I want to share ethically and responsibly.

"...to express, not impress..."