"I just want to live in a world of mountains, coffee, campfires, cabins and golden trees, and run around with a camera and notebook, learning the inner workings of everything real" ~ quote by @victoriaericksonwriter
This year, my first interaction with the California "superbloom" was just outside of Temecula near Walker Canyon and Lake Elsinore. I happened to be in the area and knew it was home to a great poppy field hike. Even though it had been an overcast day which meant that the poppies' pedals would not be open (they need sunlight), I thought "why not." I am here. I might as well take a sunset hike and experience a beautiful canyon and see the poppies, open or closed. It didn't matter to me. I just wanted a new little adventure.
I knew this particular location was an actual hike so I was dressed in athletic gear and tennis shoes. I parked my car along the frontage road, and as I started to look around, I realized that no one else was in work-out clothing. People were dressed up... very dressed up. My initial thought was hmmm... was I remembering this canyon wrong? Is it not the hike I was thinking it was? Did I miss something? Is a wedding going on?
Turns out, I had NOT misunderstood the hike. It is, in fact, a steep vertical dirt trail. What I had mis-judged was society. Nearly every person I saw during the hike was there for instagram. True story: I saw two girls in dresses and heels hiking up the trail each with their own rolling suitcase. Once at the top of the hill, these girls opened the luggage to reveal multiple changes of clothing "options" for their social media photos.
I watched in awe as these girls posed for photos, and what I noticed is that they never turned around to actually see the sunset backdrop behind them. They never seemed to engage in any way with their real life surroundings. As a photography hobbiest, I also found it funny that they kept changing clothes and taking photos with what little sunlight was left setting behind them. Based on how they were taking their shots, they would be silhouetted in the photos... their changes of clothes wouldn't even matter.
And, what is even crazier is that they weren't the only ones in this mindset. As I looked around I saw group after group of people with reflectors and huge DSLR cameras. Everyone was posing for photos and laying like models in the poppies... the closed up poppies. I mean... to each their own, but I had never seen anything like this before. No one seemed to be enjoying the sunset or the scenery. No one appeared to be there as part of a "real" life experience. Most people were only there for their "digital" life. What the......
My mind was blown. Tourism and photography go hand in hand. I get it, but I am seeing a change in how we all interact with the world, not just in California, but globally, there is a shift happening. I have visited quite a few tourist destinations, and it is understandable that people want photos to document their experience. In those types of environments, I even give the selfie stick a pass. I truly understand wanting to get a photo of yourself in a particular place to show your children one day and say: "look, I was here." I do that all the time. Guilty as charged. But, are full on photo shoots really necessary? And, at what point are we faking what could be... should be... our real life moments?
Now, I love a good photo just as much as the next girl. I understand that placing a person in a photo adds a sense of depth and scale that the shot might not otherwise have. I do it all the time. For instance, a person standing in the middle of a sea of poppies or sand dunes helps to communicate the vastness of the field of orange. And, holding a poppy in a person's hand adds that sense of scale so as to fully grasp the size of the bloom. Photography adds something to the understanding and articulation of an experience. And, mostly, people respond more to photos of other people. It's human nature. I get it. I do it too.
I am not a photographer, but I am a user of social media as a journal of sorts. I have been visually archiving my life since I was about 10 years old. I used all of my birthday and Christmas money to purchase throw away cameras. I have boxes and boxes of photos from those years and even boxes of unprocessed film I couldn't afford to print. When I finally saved up enough money to buy my first real camera at the age of 13, I carried it with me everywhere and documented everything. This was long before the internet was the internet and social media was in the picture of our lives.
For me, nothing has changed since my early discovery of a camera. I still go about my life in the exact same way. I carry a small camera with me and chronicle life as I see it. Photography is an avenue to appreciating the world around me. It's similar to a musician that experiences the world through sound. My primary interaction with life is through a camera lens. I see things in a shot looking through a lens that I don't see with the naked eye. I am inspired by the juxtaposition of light and shadow and the scale of mountains and glaciers as a backdrop to human life. And, yes, of course, I want photos of myself in a particular location to have for my own scrapbook of my life. Again, guilty as charged.
Documenting and sharing life's photos are two completely different animals, and perhaps there is a balance to be had. The photos that mean the most to me are private moments framed in my home that are never shared. If a photo inspires me in some way or means something to me or is a silly casual moment from my daily activity and I feel it might be relatable to others, then, I share it. And, I do love to share those moments and engage in dialogue with other people with a similar interest. But, that is always an after thought in a way. What I mean is that my goal is to live my life first, to do things for myself and for my own personal journey and life story. Then, what comes out of that, hopefully, is an authentic representation of myself and raw and meaningful conversations with others.
For me, taking photos adds to my life, and I consciously try to never let it take away from an experience. This is why I don't use snapchat. It asks to much of my attention in the moment. It is not the right outlet for me. I can't handle it. I don't want to be constantly looking down at my phone. I want to be looking out at the world. I want to touch it, smell it, taste it, and engage with it in some way. And, yes, of course, I do want to document it, but only after processing the experience do I even think about sharing it. If I want to post about it great, and if not, thats great too, because either way I still have the experience and inspiration I gained to carry around with me in my real life.
In the case of Walker Canyon, I was so taken aback by everything I was seeing. I could not process it all. It was hard to accept that this would be what we would be seeing all over the world now, more photo shoots and less of an authentic life. In my own personal defiance and rebellion to this societal shift, I never posted about this day at Walker Canyon. Instead, I hiked the trail, enjoyed an intimate and beautiful sunset, and let the entire afternoon soak into my being. I took in the experience for its inspiration and let it add something to my real life, and not a photo feed.
The world is vast and beautiful. There is not a single digital feed that can outdo the planet's real beauty. Photos can only capture and inspire us up to a certain point, and the rest is up to us. It is going out there, living our lives, engaging with the world, and being present in our real life moments that counts. I have found that keeping this approach to my life is getting harder and harder so my challenge both to you and to myself is to be more present. That is what sparks raw, authentic conversations and connections with others in our real lives, on social media, and elsewhere. That is what changes us and propels us forward. That is what truly inspires us all. That is what broadens our understanding of the world and our place in it. That is a life worth documenting. And more importantly, that is a life worth living.