When you see beautiful girls in the deserted streets of Mykonos, Cinque Terre or Prague; a lonely vagabond in yellow trench coat perched on the edge of Trolltunga taking in the beauty of the infinite Norwegian landscape; or a fragile female in a long dress facing Iceland’s raw, natural exteriors, well… the truth is, you’re not getting the whole picture.
Since I started my Instagram account in 2016, I have been engaged in an internal debate with myself about the ethics of the “reality versus illusion” phenomenon. On one hand, like most photographers, I use my camera and editing skills to bring out the best of the places I visit. But when I post images like those on Instagram, my question is whether I (and many other Instagrammers out there), by publishing such nicely manicured, stylized images, am pushing falsehoods about these places – and even about myself. Or is this what we really want to see and we just don’t give a damn about reality?
In popular Mykonos, the “180 Sunset Bar” is a spot not to be missed. I went there early, an hour before table service started, so that I would be able to grab a great seat for my sunset photo. Well, I was “let in the front row” just long enough to be able to take the photo and then I had to move to a shady, windy corner to consume my rather expensive dinner as the stunning scenery area is held for big groups (who are likely to spend more).
You have to wait in a long queue here too, to take this photo -another example of when the real experience is far from the sweet illusion depicted in the photos.
Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?
Let me make a little “philosophical detour” here. It is a scientifically proven fact that the human race’s search for beauty is evolutionarily determined. According to this concept, the appreciation of beauty is rooted deeply in our minds: from prehistoric ancestors to modern day people, humans from all across the globe find certain things, shapes, aspects of people and landscapes beautiful, and it is said to enhance survival of a human’s genes. Such an aesthetic has been present in cave paintings, architectural structures of all ages and styles, music, etc.
So my point is, if beauty comes in the form of illusory Instagram photos, so be it. There are millions of breathtaking photos on Instagram and I take great pleasure in scrolling through them. How nice is it to daydream I’m galavanting into those jaw-dropping dream spots shown on Instagram? Very! Would I rather see pictures of garbage in the streets or a sea of selfie sticks around popular spots? Absolutely not.
Behind the scenes
It doesn’t mean, however, that we should be blind to how theatrical these images are. Summer dresses in raw natural settings may be cold and uncomfortable. Empty streets equal painfully early hours of getting up. Bravely balancing on a cliff might easily be fighting fear of heights for that Instagram photo. Flawless looks, flattering poses involve countless tries and shots.
In fact, most images on Instagram are the antonym of effortless – but again, if we look at it from another aspect – it is the price paid to create beauty.
The void of meaning
I recently came across a quite passive-aggressive article about how Instagrammers “suck the life out of travel.” The writer also points out that she’d rather see landscapes without one’s “peachy bottom.” And while I respect her as a journalist, I don’t think she quite gets the point. As I see it, the root problem does not lie with the style or theme of these pictures but with the lack of context, the unveiling background story. Cliche quotes seem to do just fine alongside cliche photos (which I’m guilty of testing), and no one seems to care about the real context.
Why is it a problem?
While other forms of art have emerged without causing harm to us, the “Instagram gallery” puts us at a severe risk of pushing ourselves towards unattainable goals – physically, psychologically and financially. I am talking about those relying on Instagram when it comes to picking a dream holiday destination. Cliche quotes and meaningless captions hyping traveling without mention of the difficulties along the way. Also, it sure seems that most instagrammers seem to ignore the worldwide problem of overtourism.
And what about the responsibility of travelers/tourists?
As tourism is shaped by Instagram, it is the genuine benefits of traveling that seem to be straying out of reach. Seeing the number of phones and cameras in action, I sometimes wonder if many take a trip to experience a place, or to just take pictures of themselves to show that they’ve been there. Are they curious about the culture or locals in the least?
The hunger for grabbing a selfie, even in dangerous natural settings, has even resulted in a number of accidental deaths, after people have fallen off of cliffs or had other accidents abroad, dubbed “selficide.” Crazy world!
Whether it comes to how we travel, or what influence the online world can have on the travel industry, there must be a better way. Do you think online influencers and travelers can make a bit of a difference in how things turn out? I am a firm believer that they can.