Social Media, Conservation, and Photography Thoughts
| July 31, 2017 |
In one of my earlier posts, I dove into the idea of creationism for oneself – of being true to nobody but OURSELVES in our creative endeavors. I noted how I don’t want my art to be tireless. I don’t want to create to make you happy. Instead, I will create to connect to myself, to others, and to the higher self that lives inside my soul. As Elizabeth Gilbert so eloquently put it in Big Magic, “Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy.”
And so, I’ve been on a mission to stay true to myself (whoever that is), free myself from comparison, and focus inward for my creative inspiration.
I feel it’s appropriate to again enter the forever perplexing conversation about social media, especially after Delightful Pursuit’s workshop with six photographers in the Pacific Northwest. I also would like to respond to the questions Jacob Moon recently posted about social media. He asked the following challenging questions: What do you see as the biggest problem facing our wild places caused by Social Media? Are Outdoor focus social media influences in general doing enough? When you read through all the captions that people write do you often here messages of conservation and protection?
Let’s dive deep, Fellow Dreamers. I truly hope you comment below on your thoughts. Let’s open a conversation, together.
On April 20, I was sitting at my desk in Yakima between my patient documentation when I started craving some outdoor imagery. I peered toward the window above me, wishing I were outside in the beautiful weather rather than behind my computer screen. So, I whipped out my iPhone, opened Instagram, and began scrolling through the feed that is almost exclusively accounts of outdoor photographers. My scrolling was halted as soon as I saw a post from Scott Kranz. He announced the “big news” that he’d be joining five other Pacific Northwest photographers on a “huge photography workshop” on May 20. Better yet? They’d be giving away spots to the workshop, and all you had to do was tag friends and publicize an entry post on Instagram as to why you wanted to be part of the workshop.
I KNEW I had to give it a hard-earned try! Photography has been my way of documenting, connecting, storytelling, and being in the moment.
Almost immediately, the doubtful thoughts started flooding in. I knew there were so many other people who would be deserving of a spot in the workshop. “You’re not a photographer,” my brain told me.
But then my heart started kicking in. I started shutting the door on shame, fear… whatever it was. I knew my intentions were wholehearted. I knew that being part of this workshop could open new doors, new ideas, and new means of connecting with influential people in the PNW—an area I’ve truly grown to love.
My reasoning behind wanting to attend the workshop couldn’t be verbalized in one post, so I used my ability to be succinct (…hah) to make THREE posts describing why I wanted to be part of the COLLABORATION workshop.
Just the idea of COLLABORATION had my heart racing! By putting my story on social media, I was gifted the chance to attend this workshop, and reach a new level of inspiration and connection. For two days, six PNW photographers spoke their truth and shared wisdom from their artistic journeys. There was not a classic degree of separation between teacher and pupil, however. We were all on the same level, all learning from each other. Our classroom was Olympic National Park, our desks were camp chairs around a bonfire, our practical was on Second Beach, and our dorms were tents. We united in passion for photography and the outdoors.
Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.
– Henry Ford –
One of the most powerful things I got out of this experience was feeling and knowing the people behind the Instagram screen in a different, authentic way. There was something raw and beautiful about being on a campground, talking about photography around a the smoke and light of a campfire. There was truth behind the night conversations enhanced with tequila and good vibes.
Well done putting it together, Derrick. Wow.
Besides learning how to use Lightroom (thank you Mio & Jamie), how to be prepared in the outdoors (thank you Scott), new ways to appreciate form/light in art (thank you Benjamin), I started thinking even FURTHER about social media during a mid-day conversation with Jake and Jason.
I’m going to address this from the inside – out. I believe the biggest issue with social media at this time is PRESERVATION. This is reflected in many different ways, and I hope you contemplate these ideas with me. I feel very split in many of these areas, and will do my best to shed light on various issues while also sharing personal thoughts. Please note, most of what I talk about below is subjective, and you’ll likely find things you strongly agree and disagree with. Feel free to share any thoughts. This is a judgment-free zone…
Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.
– Mahatma Gandhi –
We are offered the social media outlet as a chance to be completely vulnerable: to be our true selves, to share our story with the world. But what are some people doing with this opportunity? Turning their backs because of fear – fear of not being accepted, not good enough, not successful.
If we define success by constantly comparing ourselves to others, we are shunting our own abilities. We are choosing fear.
Why compare ourselves to everyone else?
I’ve been conflicted in the image I wish to portray. I’ve been a subject of the new age, which requires us to have a fluidity to the images we choose to show the public.
But… I have chosen to be free in my expression.
I won’t judge your means of creative expression, because that would be a disservice to our entire community. Whatever you’ve decided to portray should be authentic, and if it’s authentically YOU, then it’s something you’ve molded from your head and your heart, translated through your hands (quote)
I’ve decided for myself what my image will be. I know my mission.
This is my truth. I want to reach people through inspiring photography and storytelling in a way that promotes connection to ourselves, each other, and Mother Nature. I believe in the healing power of our natural places and want to tap into Gaia’s healing abilities through creative expression and non-traditional Physical Therapy practices. I am on a constant mission to develop my connection with myself in a way that allows me to be comfortable with who I am, embracing vulnerability and living outside of comfort zones. I aim to capture this vulnerability and tell my story in conjunction with the inspiring stories of others who transcend perceived limitations. I will connect with like-minded individuals on a global level in attempt to shift views and belief systems, while embracing a culture of love and constant progression.
I really wonder what gives us the right to wreck this poor planet of ours.
– Kurt Vonnegut Jr. –
PRESERVING THE ART
Instagram posts have become synonymous with photography. Photography is a form of art. So, most people posting on Instagram are artists. Thus, people have full creative license to do as they wish. Ask Ben how he photographed the unique view he got, and he may not be able to tell you exactly where to stand ;). There’s so many different styles of photography, which first depends on the equipment used: mirrorless cameras, full-frame/crop sensors, lenses, and filters. Then, post-processing lends to even greater creative options. Some people feel inclined to make their photos “HD” and bump up the clarity. Some wash out all the colors, or make it sharply contrasted because there’s just so many moods and emotions we can capture by using different hues #moodygrams. Some edit by combining images, stacking and stitching, adding/subtracting, cutting/pasting. Then, maybe we print the photo on metal or canvas, or it’s posted on a website.
There’s an accumulation of decisions that are made throughout this entire process, and it’s all up to the creator to determine their path.
So, who are we to complain? Who are we to say these things “can’t be done”? That it’s “not right” how the photographer ‘over-processed’ their image? It was their choice, and we may not like it, but that doesn’t put it in the category of “WRONG.” And it certainly doesn’t warrant nasty comments.
Art will ALWAYS be met with rejection. 19th-century Impressionism developed in effort to quickly capture the light of a landscape – to use a variety of lines, dots, and brush strokes to freeze the movement and changing light. This was preposterous at the time, and almost sloppy. People will still say Jackson Pollock merely threw paint at a canvas, and “that’s not art.” But does that discount the fact that his Abstract Expressionism is so pivotal in the way we think about art, the way America is expressed in the post-war era?
As with ALL creative processes, it’s important NOT to be attached to our work. I recently listened to a TED talk about an artist who created “Goodbye Art”– literally art that could NOT be preserved. He used candles, frozen wine, and matches to create portraits. His idea was that he would enjoy the creation, then detach from the end product by destroying it. This destruction allowed more room for the next creative process. Phil Hansen said, “Each time I created, the destruction brought me back to a neutral place.”
So often, we attach to our creative products. We allow them to define our successes and failures. Elizabeth Gilbert urges in Big Magic to believe that “done is better than good,” and sometimes just completing a creative process is enough. WHY? Because it was the truest expression of subjective self at the time.
Art isn’t always representative of who we are as a whole. Picasso wasn’t depressed for his entire artistic career, but his Blue Era certainly produced a different feeling than his other work. When we show up in front of our canvas, sketchbook, or camera lens, we are always different, and always evolving. This is why we can never be truly satisfied with our work if we constantly revisit it. Each time we show up, we want to express something different.
We should be sensitive to the fact that we can (almost) never be truly satisfied with our own work. If we remember this and tap into the feeling we get when we post our image on social media platforms (the “oh gosh, how will people respond” feeling), we can be more aware of others. We can reduce our criticism of others, and instead meet them with understanding. We are not alone in our creative endeavors, and we shouldn’t single anyone out to feel that they have demons to battle in the outside world.
PRESERVING THE PLACES
Being an outdoor photographer and receiving much of my artistic/photographic and lifestyle inspiration from those who also venture into the wild, I’ve found an increasing importance in CONSERVATION and PROTECTION.
The first thing is to preserve our wild places in the process of traveling. The seven principles of Leave No Trace (found here) offer the basics for how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly while leaving minimal impact:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
The thing that irritates me is pure ignorance. The awareness of these principles and trail guidelines, but decision not to follow them. There are plenty of signs at trail heads and along hiking trails that warn people of the proper Leave No Trace principles. “Don’t walk between rows,” said the multitude of signs at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Yet, how many people did I see running between rows to get a photo? Why disrespect nature for your selfish creation?
There are always going to be people who don’t respect nature. Who turn their cheek. Yet, there’s no need to name-call, point a finger, and create tension with these people. Rather than pointing these people out, responding with anger/annoyance, why don’t we educate?
Many people who “opt outside” are doing it right. They’re asking the right questions. They’re curious, and treading softly on our precious public lands.
But then there are people who completely disregard.
These people need our voices.
Do I think social media influencers in the outdoor industry are doing enough?
Well, I don’t entirely think the weight of conservation and protection falls on social media influencers. Yet, I think there’s a lot of factors leading influencers are keeping in mind, and this is getting close to enough. The issue of whether to tag a location on an Instagram photo will always be torn. The pro is that others can search for the locations and see recent photos/conditions, plus get beta on a good spot for photos. The con is that the places start becoming overcrowded, under-qualified people visit, and we attract the wrong crowds to these places. Maybe we should urge people to ask where a photo was taken. Maybe people need to simply discover wild places on their own without misguidance from a social media influencer, who obviously doesn’t know the abilities of someone requesting the trail/location. When deciding which wild places to access, I think the BEST system is to do our own research, ask qualified people (i.e. park rangers, trip guides), and understand our own limitations. Traveling into unfamiliar terrain too outside of our comfort zone leads to an excess of Search and Rescue calls.
The moral of that story? Encourage people to do their own research, and raise awareness about the path it took to get to the location. It’s important to, at times, bring awareness to the sweat and tears that led to the epic photo.
On social media, it’s now important more than ever to spark conversation, share knowledge, and write about the ideas of conservation/leaving minimal impact on a regular basis. I can think of a few individuals I follow on social media who regularly speak about this need to protect our wild places, such as:
- Jacob Moon @moonmountainman as evidenced by this thought-provoking conversation he initiated. He always inspire connectivity and contemplation of our relationship with social media + the outdoors.
- Scott Kranz @scott_kranz who consistently speaks respectfully of the outdoors in the PNW and beyond.
- Jason Reynolds @roguephto donates 100% of the money he makes from his prints towards the protection of the environment – visit his site here roguephoto.us
- Chris Burkard @chrisburkard regularly inspires conversation about protecting our wild places, as evident by one of his recent posts:
- Erin Sullivan @erinoutdoors who has recently had some thought-provoking stories on her Instagram.
- Mitch Pittman @mitchpittman who is a @wanatlparkfund board member, and urges us to learn more about the Washington National Parks that have become my home.
I think a good amount of social media influencers are starting to shift their conversations to provide important information in all these realms. However, I don’t think it’s enough just yet. A lot of leading photographers and outdoor enthusiasts use empty quotes on their photo captions, rather than taking the opportunity to educate and inspire in a unique, authentic way. Recognizing that thousands of people are seeing your image is important, and we should use the opportunity to impact others with our words.
Personally, I read ALL captions, because I want to hear the story that mirrors the image. I would urge others to post photos with captions, and also read the captions from others in order to connect in other ways.
What’s the biggest problem facing our wild places with social media?
Well, I think it’s both the biggest problem AND the biggest advantage, all rolled into one messy, sloppy ball. Social media is bring more people outside. People are scrolling through their feeds, feeling inspired, wanting to visit the National Parks. With increasing visitors, there’s increasing funding, which means more money for conservation efforts.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
– John Muir –
This is a Catch-22. More people also means more potential for destruction. More potential for disrespect. This isn’t to say that everyone who visits a natural place is uneducated or ignorant at all. And it certainly shouldn’t dissuade anyone from visiting these places. However, it puts extra emphasis on the need to EDUCATE – EDUCATE – EDUCATE in a variety of ways. People are seeing a beautiful place on their Instagram feed, seeing the geotag (i.e. Hidden Lake Lookout) and wanting to go in order to get the same photo. What some people fail to realize, however, is the effort it requires to arrive at these places. Especially with the amount of snow the Cascade mountains accumulated this year, it’s important to know before you go. I’ve met a lot of uneducated people on the trails, who didn’t have the right gear for snow and various conditions.
This puts a great deal of emphasis on INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. As consumers, we must do our research. When visiting our public natural places, we must recognize it is our DUTY to have mutual respect for ourselves and our surroundings.
Please, don’t graffiti the rocks. Please, pack out your trash. Please, don’t blast hip-hop music on your hike. Please, move aside for ascending hikers when you’re traveling downhill. Please, let cairns be. Please, travel at least 200 feet away from the trail when taking a dump.
Please, keep your iPhone in your pack sometimes.
I’m afraid people will venture into the outdoors, seeing our wild places only from behind their screen. I’m afraid people will continue to leave their mark, and not respect Mother Nature.
But, I am hopeful we will collectively be more aware.
Our Earth needs us, just as we need Our Earth.
So, please, breathe in the wild air, travel mindfully, step softly, and thank Mother Nature for her endless gifts.
PRESERVING THE CONNECTION
Society isn’t (and probably won’t ever be) the same as it once was. In the Renaissance era (late 14th century), artists were first apprentices before admission into a professional guild. All philosophers had students. Artists, writers, and great thinkers worked together and trained each other.
As long as we reinitiate the motion to work together toward common goals, we can be stronger and vibrate on a higher frequency. We need to connect with each other in order to understand the regulations in our natural places. We need to connect in order to stay safe in the landscapes we decide to venture into. We need to share information, advice, and ways to improve our outdoor experiences.
With whom should we connect? How about the following:
- The National Parks. There’s a plethora of information available at visitor centers and websites of our national parks. We can learn about the rules and regulations prior to entering these spaces. We should connect with rangers in person, or by reading the signage they have placed throughout the park.
- Local organizations. Especially in the PNW, there are a ton of ways to learn more about conservation and protecting natural places. These organizations create a backdrop of respect in the outdoors. To name a few in the PNW and beyond:
- Washington Trail Association, SummitPost, and more provide information about recent conditions on hiking trails and various climbs. These are typically region-specific, but have a ton of information regarding the outdoors. It’s important to check recent reports before you go, share your own trip reports with the community, and interact with others who access the same wild places.
- Facebook groups. There are a ton of groups focused on outdoor culture, that allow for questions and comments on a huge variety of topics. It’s important to keep these threads relevant and (overall) positive. Ask people in your area which groups are available!
I think questioning and maintaining curiosity about our place in the world (within ourselves, our art, wild places, and other people) is the way to start this conversation. By being curious, we maintain a level of open-mindedness and softness. This opens the conversation to spread knowledge, inspire, and connect in a profoundly different way.
We’ve been given the gift of connectivity and the easiest form of communication yet. It’s important we maintain effective communication.
PRESERVING THE NEED TO ACT
Simply scrolling through an Instagram feed isn’t going to give you all your creative answers, and hitting a “like” button on Washington National Park Fund’s page isn’t going to increase conservation efforts. What we need to do is be active in the preservation process. Here’s how I think we can preserve all the layers of social media:
Preserving yourself: Don’t let fear be your guide, and don’t hold too tightly to criticism/success on social media. Maintain authenticity.
Preserving the art: Recognize that everyone has the right to creative expression, and this will shine through in various ways. You may not like someone else’s work, but that doesn’t make it “wrong” or “bad.” The world cannot always be black and whilte.
Preserving the places: Keep our wild places sacred. Don’t over-share location information on social media. Know your abilities, and only travel within your own means in order to keep yourself and others safe. Leave minimal impact on your environment by following “Leave No Trace” guidelines, and always challenge yourself to learn MORE.
Preserving the connection: Use social media for its positive benefits – the ability to connect and be inspired by others, without comparison or judgement.