A Critical Reflection on Travel Pictures 

 I posted a lovely little breadcrumb trail last night of some of the nicest pictures I have from the last few weeks, and now I have to admit I’m a big fat hypocrite.
You see, after visiting Angkor Wat back in February, I had some strong words to say on the role of picture taking while adventuring. I didn’t publish the piece because, well frankly, it was very angry. Which makes sense, as it took just a month to realize that the pictures you see online are often far from the truth. Now a month is no short length of time, but I just kept telling myself that I wasn’t getting those “picture perfect” moments because I wasn’t looking hard enough, I wasn’t climbing high enough. It took a 4:30am sunrise at Angkor Wat for the reality to hit me.

 From the beginning we have chased the sunrise/ sunset/ viewpoint. We’ve scrambled over dark rocky shorelines by the light of headlamps, clambered over twisting tree roots, crossed narrow canyon walkways wth long drops, and climbed waterfalls that in every sense of the word fall, were not meant to be climbed.  But here, sitting on a muddy bank, this mostly tourist free photo of Angkor Wat cost me aprox. 30 shoves (taken & given), 3 massive leaps (literally over human bodies), and the constant chatter of frustration and urgency in the background from hundreds of other people all trying to get the same photo.

  And eventually I asked myself: Why am I experiencing more tranquility from a google image of “Angkor Wat” on my phone screen than I am actually experiencing at Angkor Wat?

 If there were no cameras, or even just a restriction on camera use, what would traveling and tourism look like? What kind of experience would it be?

Because the frequency/ desperation/ frustration with which people are often taking pictures, it’s as though their trip really depends on the 4″x6″ for Facebook or Instagram. It needs to be perfect, right?

And the fact of the matter is this:

 We are not the only people traveling in Thailand right now. We are not the only ones climbing the mountains, or waking up to catch the sunset, so the pictures I post that don’t have a sign of other individuals- well thats one for every ten that shows clear evidence of other travelers. My arms might be stretched above them, or I might’ve walked to an empty space.

 I don’t want to say that all of our pictures are frauds- they’re not. We really did go to Koh Phangan (Full Moon Party island) twice during the lulls where there were no parties and considerably less tourists.

 We really did rent a motorbike and drive to the most undeveloped (and arguably most beautiful) beach on Koh Phangan- Mae Haad beach in the north.

On Koh Phi Phi we walked out a hundred meters in the muck of a low tide to catch the sunset picture I posted in the last blog, and even then that was just luck of timing; everyone else saw it from a bar seat on the beach.

 Every meal here is picture worthy, every park green and flourishing (I will admit though, the north is quite dry outside of city limits).

So let me tell you about paradise, and from the bottom of my heart apologize for my hypocrisy. There are beautiful sunsets, and more ants than you can imagine. And they bite. Hard. There are bed bugs, mosquitos, and mountain tops. Waterfalls that run faster than the water from the tap (and likely cleaner). Inescapable heat and beautiful beaches. If you adventure during the off season, you’re more likely to find some isolation, but a tourist free trip is just not realistic.
Everyone else and their dogs are traveling in Thailand, hell, traveling the world- and that’s okay. We all want that Indiana Jones adventure for culture, food, and artifacts (i.e. pictures) and some people do find it. Might be a single day, or an entire trip of adventure; we did the long hike back from Bottle Beach on Koh Phangan, and let me tell you, that was an adventure.

  Slanted forests, poorly marked trails, and everything short of rock climbing. We found abandoned bungalows. I dangled from trees while the ocean crashed 30ft below a sheer rock face. I was terrified.

The point I’m trying to make, is that a picture tells half the story; expression and the depiction of beauty are not things to be judged for their realistic qualities- there is no standard of truth held to art, and I think that’s entirely okay, even great. I just personally have an issue with these images being used to create the idea of “a perfect off the beaten path trip” via social media or sites that call themselves “informative”, like the many hip and cool travel venues these days.

So all the way from my perfectly normal and absolutely amazing trip in Thailand, I’m waving my dirty laundry about travel photography for the world to see. I’ve done the silly things to get a tourist free (and cliche) photo,

 and I’ve also been doubled over, cursing and gasping for air, trying to contemplate trusting yet another shady thorny jungle vine to hold my weight while I crossed a shady fallen jungle tree (part of the vine for all I know) spanning a chasm of doom.

All the best,

No amount of influence from an English degree will prevent run on sentences, spelling errors, and/or incorrect use of punctuation, not in the past, nor in the future; all of the greats broke rules, were mocked, and later revered.
– a very creative rhetorician

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