“It’s not two kilometres to the beginning of the walk is it?” one of the two girls just ahead of us on our way to the Campuhan Ridge Walk in Ubud, Bali asks us.
“No”, we reply. “I think we’re almost there. It’s two km to the café most people go to.”
A smile lights up on her face and then with more energy than I could muster in the hot, humid afternoon heat, they run off ahead of us.
We quickly catch up to them after the next hill however.
“Cross your step at the beginning!” one of the girls instructed the other.
They spent about 5 minutes trying to get the perfect shot, the perfectly staged candid photograph serenely walking through the tranquil nature path. At the same time, they profusely apologized to the growing number of people they were holding up to get that shot without pesky other people in the frame.
After they got their photograph, they turned and headed back to town.
A National Geographic article from earlier this year discussed how Instagram is changing the face of travel. “Clearly we have an appetite for imagery, and it’s influencing our travel decisions,” writes Carrie Miller, the article’s author. People are increasingly inspired to travel to the places they see in photographs to recreate the iconic shots themselves.
While Instagram and other social media inspires travel, it may also have a darker side. Miller quotes photographer Trey Ratcliff, “A lot of people are still very ego-driven. They want to portray that they are leading some kind of perfect life, which is quite silly really.”
Interestingly, reflecting Ratcliff’s comments in a different light, a very recent study from the UK explored the mental health impacts of social media on teenagers. They found that Instagram, which features personal photos, received the worst scores for body image and anxiety. Seeing picture perfect holiday pictures, grand nights out and beautiful bodies can promote a “’compare and despair’ attitude”. The photographs shown are picture perfect, making young people feel that their own bodies and lives are somewhat inadequate. However, the researchers note that they do not consider that people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’….or spend 5 minutes trying to stage that perfect candid shot.
I love travel photography. I love the power of an image to evoke emotions and admire the amazing photographers out there who seem to be able to capture the essence and beauty of a location through their works of art.
However, what I have noticed in my recent travels to Bali and other islands in Indonesia is that many travel photos are being taken not to say “Wow! Look at this awesome place!” but rather “Look how awesome I am and the amazing life I’m living!”
Travel is not perfect. It is messy and frustrating at times. It is a chance to explore and grow and better understand the amazing world we live in. To go to a place just to take a selfie is robbing yourself of truly experiencing it.
This is not to say don’t take pictures of yourself but to put it in perspective. If no one knew you were doing a trip and there were no photographs of yourself, would you still embark on the adventure? Is the photograph simply for bragging rights?
On one of our last days in Bali, we joined throngs of other travellers on the 5 km long beach stretching from Kuta to Seminyak with toes in the sand and a cold beer in hand to watch one of the oldest and greatest shows on earth, the sunset. Our show this evening was made even better by a bikini clad girl running towards the water over and over and over again (only towards, never actually getting into the water) as her friend tried to get that perfect shot of her with the sunset in the background.