Let's talk about framing. When it comes to influencing other’s perceptions, it is everything. When I finally gave into becoming pretentious enough to say the words “I have a blog” out loud, I decided that at the very least, I wouldn’t fall into the trap of over-romanticizing every single aspect of travel. I would try to be optimistic, but still honest and in check with reality. And for the most part, I believe I have done a pretty good job of that.
In my writing at least.
I’m not so sure about with my photography however.
See as much as I wish as I could ascend above the label of tourist with my attempts to see more than just the bare surface level of cultures, to adventurously go off the beaten path and rise above the legions of selfie sticks once and for all, I’m still a tourist. There’s no getting around it. I’m a foreigner who travels for leisure and visits the main attractions. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, since tourist attractions are usually that way for a reason, they possess some interesting or unique cultural/historical attribute that people would not get anywhere else. The trouble with tourist attractions is they always seem to come with one thing: tourists.
And there is the challenge: to portray a place or a moment in a representative fashion while still keeping the image attractive/visually interesting. This, coupled with the sharing on social media and the ever present temptation to gloat should really let you know that while my landscapes may look pretty, you still probably aren’t seeing everything that’s really there. Because I probably cropped like 20 speedos out of the frame.
See unless the subject matter of the picture is the decrepitness, like say an artsy black and white photo of an alley, or to emphasize the people or crowds as to make a statement, there can be the mindset of trying to make the images in front of the lens fit a preconceived idea. And if it does’t automatically look like that, then how can you give the impression that it does? Be it cropping, photoshop or just really carefully chosen angles, when does a photo stop capturing the moment, and become more about presenting a false (but more flattering) idea? Because here’s the thing, my photos definitely leave out some details that change the scene.
I don’t know if you’ve ever perused Facebook or Instagram and started feeling inadequate about your life— this is redundant, let me rephrase this, I don't know if you’ve ever used any social media website ever, but I sure do and let me tell you something: that feeling of inadequacy never leaves.
About 99% of the time when I use these websites, they definitely don’t make me feel better about myself. Instead I feel like I’m not social enough, not living my life exciting enough and envious of the adventures that my peers get to have.
Which is ridiculous. I’m in China! I am faced with a new world of possibilities and experiences and I have traveled more than I could ever hope to. However there was a period of time, if you were to look online, that aside from my clearly winning blog, the majority of this was undocumented. I was too busy to work out posting the photos and videos from my Canon. Which is to say if you didn’t make sure everyone else on the internet knows you had fun, did you really have fun?
Yes, of course you did because that is a stupid question, but that is how it feels sometimes.
I always thought that if I did more exciting things or had more unique experiences that feeling of inferiority would go away when I looked online. Turns out this is not the case. I am just competitive and petty enough that it’s not enough for me always to just be having fun, I have to be having more fun than everyone else with good lighting and a flattering angle too.
This happened last year when all of my peers and I began our freshman years at our respective universities, with every post there was a subtle (or overt) tone of having to “win” best experience at college (i.e. most friends most impressive school, best adventures) and again this year at Pepperdine, with all the sophomores abroad in the different International Programs. That competitive spirit persists, and frankly it is exhausting.
This desire to prove oneself coupled with the desire to present this image of you (meaning me) as the intrepid traveler, marking new uncharted territory, leads to capturing some very misleading images. Places never really look that pristine. Trust me, I’ve been to some of them.
Now I’m not calling for some grand end to online superficiality, I too enjoy pretending to be a more interesting person on the internet, it’s fun, and everyone wants to show off a little sometimes. Sharing those memories is a wonderful form of record-keeping and there’s no way of always perfectly communicating a moment. And I’m not saying to go for the exact opposite effect, either, posting super revealing confessions for all of your ex-primary school friends to read, to be honest, those kinds of posts make me uncomfortable.
Just please remember to take in pictures with a grain of salt, even mine. I’ll try to be genuine, but sometimes you just want that screensaver shot, and you can do that without actively trying to deceive anyone. But no matter how hard you look, when you’re looking at a screen, you’re not getting the whole picture.