Is less sometimes more in the age of GPS?
I’ve not been inclined to name the exact photo locations on this website although in the beginning I could not say exactly why. Then, the more I learned about today’s “stoke” photography movement the more it seemed like a good choice. A friend recently asked how I felt about how my photographs might have an unintended consequence of encouraging more people to visit, thereby threatening the values that attracted me to make the photograph in the first place. She is the only person that’s ever asked me about it and I welcomed it because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, and not just about the general public but about photographers too.
They are not secrets but there are two reasons my locations are more general than specific. First, specific locations drive the photography I do toward a documentary mindset. I’m more interested in the beauty of natural places, presented as an ideal. Second, significant damage to natural places is caused by photographers competitively seeking “the shot”, with embedded GPS location, that will increase social media ratings but risk the trampling of the place.
Returning from a trip last week I made a side excursion to check out a lesser-known redwood park I’d not visited before. I was blown away, at one point moved to tears actually, by the sense of being in a silent and awe-inspiring primeval forest, an ancient place. This forest has escaped the trampling of so many visitor feet that can turn a natural place into something more akin to a museum. Armstrong Redwoods State Park near my home is like that. It is beautiful, accessible, and has awe inspiring trees but it’s not the real deal. We surely need museums to inform, educate, and preserve our history and we need accessible natural places like Armstrong Redwoods for the same purpose with our natural history. But, it is comforting to know there are still places of wild-ness in California, even if they are scattered remnants.
I was not the only visitor to my new forest that day last week and two of the trampling feet were mine. I acknowledge I’m part of the problem. On the other hand, I hope that my images are suggestive of the value of our public lands in our society, especially to those who may never visit but nevertheless feel a sense of the place, their place as Americans with a precious public land heritage. I hope all viewers can maybe find a little comfort in the knowledge that places like these are still out there. The dichotomy though, between the need for natural places for public access and the effects of that access on the naturalness of the places (and my involvement) is still unresolved for me.
I hope my website visitors will try and see, as I do, the images as my artistic suggestions of place rather than documentary postcards. In this context the specific locations are not very significant. My camera will tag photos with their GPS coordinates but don’t look for the tags in my images; that feature is always OFF. If you ask though, I’ll tell you, and I’ll be stoked by your interest.