By Andrés Muñoz
What makes a location “Instagrammable”? Is it the beauty of the environment? The magical rays of light that pop up during the sunsets? Or maybe it is the tens, if not hundreds, of people trying to take the money shot simultaneously without framing anybody else in the picture?
Photographers and tourists with cameras have always been in the touristy hotspots of the world. I do wonder, though: how has the proliferation of social media, Instagram culture, and the need to show our “spectacular” lives affected how we see travel in the past decade and a half? Let’s look at some examples and see where the conversation takes us.
Recording Travels In The Early Noughties
The first time I began posting online about my travels was on Tumblr. I created a travel blog about a trip to Europe. I also made an entire travelogue (in Spanish) about a 3-week trip to Mexico. I’d take photos all day with my DSLR, and at night I’d go over the key ones, edit them and write an article to go with the images.
The end result was 25 quality posts in the span of a month. It would be a somewhat time-consuming process that, in the end, I was very proud of. I had studied photography at university, and I felt that this was my degree being put to use towards something that I was passionate about.
One of the critical things the internet has brought is the democratisation of content creation. With the arrival of applications and websites like Instagram, VSCO, YouTube, and more, the barrier to creating attractive photos and videos has been lowered, and with it, more people are posting elaborate pictures of the places they’ve been. I no longer have to sit down and edit the photos on a separate application; I simply take the picture on my phone, do a series of quick edits on Instagram, and boom: “Andrés has posted a new photo.”
Photo albums are no longer gathering dust on house shelves; they’re online, ready for everyone to see. That said, the people who are setting themselves apart are the ones who can truly work the graphic elements in their creations.
Flirting With The ‘Gram
The first time I opened an Instagram account was during graduate school in the United States. It was coupled with several firsts: my first smartphone and the first foreign country where I was living on my own. My curiosity, combined with my photography major, made it a perfect moment to showcase that exciting moment in my life. I was delighted to show the world the cool museums I was visiting, the celebrities I would run into at music and film festivals, and the spectacular landscapes I’d encountered in the United States. There was no commercial interest behind it; I did it for the joy of discovering things.
Almost ten years have passed, and one of my favourite Instagram accounts is Insta Repeat. It shows collages of a typical touristy hotspot or a typical pose. The same old photo taken by many “different” and “unique” influencers. This also begs the question… was it like this all the time, and we just didn’t know it?
The rate at which I post has diminished dramatically, even when visiting other places. I noticed I didn’t want to make a living only from photography. By posting so many photos, I began to feel like I was just feeding the endless machine of web 2.0, a neverending assembly line of “content creation”.
Are people really seeing, or are they just mindlessly scrolling their apps and tapping likes while they’re in a dentist’s waiting room or as they hope for a lousy date to end soon? And more importantly, do I want my content to showcase my original work, or am I just fishing for likes to satisfy an all-mighty algorithm that will drive traffic towards my account? Travel is vital; it’s a beautiful and spectacular thing that opens up your mind and lets you know how big and diverse and, at the same time, how similar we all are.
Don’t get me wrong, some people have figured the system out and are making a good living out of it as travel influencers. Still, I am not seduced by the idea of being forced to show the world how much of a good time I am having every single second for a living. I’ll post content when I genuinely want to. If I am to create a brand account and see it as a personal project, then so be it.
Still, for now, I’ll share the photos and memories I really want to share, and not just another shot of me preventing the Leaning Tower of Pisa from falling over. I want to bask in the experience of travelling, not just create a side-show for others to enjoy.