Long gone are the traditional travel picture poses of the pre-digital era. In those times (when was that, the 1800s?) people would plonk themselves in front of the lens with a famous landmark in the background. They would pose with a smile that said, ‘I’m so happy to be here… aren’t you a bit jealous?’
With no means to distribute the photo however, the creation of travel-envy would be delayed until the star of the photo returned home, had the film developed and arranged to meet the target envier, wait for it, physically.
Today we have Instagram.
Travel-envy is now high quality – thanks to our more advanced cameras, immediate – thanks to the internet, but repetitive – thanks to wider exposure and our copycat culture. The standard pose of yesteryear has been replaced by a series of standard poses, inspired by those who have stood, jumped, angled, hot dog-legged or back-to-camera’d before us. We’re all guilty. We see a post, like the look, and desire to emulate it. And this could involve travelling to the exact same place to do it. This is great, we have been inspired to travel, and to a place we may not have thought to go to before. And we get to show off our experience seconds after we experience it.
Here’s the thing.
Hot dog legs cliché
As with anything fashionable, there’s no harm following the trend. But there can be pitfalls. The arc of fashion begins with early adopters who lead and inspire, and hits the peak of the curve at mass embracement. It then makes nasty slide down, ending in ridicule. There is the danger at this post-peak phase of displaying a lack of originality and/or individuality. Cue the hot dog legs cliché.
Non-sustainable photo ops
There is also, with the bulk following of a fashion, the possibility of creating an ethical or environmental dilemma. Non-sustainable photo ops.
Take the beautiful island of Koh Phi Phi Leh in the Andaman sea, Thailand. It features one of the best beaches in the world, and was The Beach in the film of the same name. Perfect to get a pose in between some traditional long-tail boats, with clear waters and lush limestone karsts in the background. What people don’t see is that behind the camera are the crowds on the beach waiting to get the same picture.
There’s also the now viral classic from Roys Peak, Lake Wanaka, New Zealand, of people waiting in line for the perfect I’m-on-top-of-world-summit-spreadeagle posture.
Many travellers share the same goal on their trip, and that is to do something unique. Instagram can have the effect however, of homogenising our travel experiences. Surely if we want more likes, and perhaps more travel-envy, it would pay to do something different.
So how to go about it?
Variations on a theme
Hit the arc on its ascendance. Better still, create it. On visiting the destination of choice, avoid the usual Instagram pose or backdrop. Look for something alternative. A new angle. Your angle. What picture would best portray the experience you are having? This could lead to more exploration. Instead of going to the viewpoint where everyone goes, perhaps there is an undiscovered view, and/or a better picture, around the corner from the crowds.
On one of the quiet back paths from The Beach on Phi Phi Leh, I found a cat hiding in a spirit house under a rock. These miniature buildings are called san phra phum. They are placed to house the spirits looking after, in this case, the sacred land, and are where daily offerings are made to appease them. The cat was imposing on a bowl of offered milk. It was impressive, but in a different way to the popular beach scene. It was my personal focal point – I was the only one, at least, taking the picture at that time. It inspired me to start a photo collection of Thai spirit houses (so far this is the only one, but the post will exist one day!)
Explore something new to avoid social media cliches
There are so many destinations to visit out there. And many places get left out of the social media frame. But it is in those neglected places a better experience could be had. Undertaking a different activity could uncover a new photographic theme. This is something the New Zealand tourist authority are keen to highlight with #DoSomethingNewNZ, a drive to avoid overcrowding in Instagram hotspots and promote less popularised destinations. As part of that campaign, the comedian Tom Sainsbury features as a ranger, curbing social media clichés in this brilliant video:
So instead of choosing a destination for its Instagrammable value, choose it because you find it interesting. Then the (more original) photo opportunities will naturally follow.
Trends of course, are cyclical. We may well find hot dog legs on the beach are in vogue again in years to come. Until then, get inventive. Dictate that difference.
Brilliant Dom, loving your blog posts