This article is mainly a rebuttal to an article by @Tassiegrammer, which can be found here. It is a great topic that is worthy of discussion and I completely understand the many valid points he makes in the article. I personally do not agree with the main premise of his argument which I will summarise as accurately as I can, but I urge you to read what he has written to at least get some insight and advice regarding the issue. In the article, @Tassiegrammer believes from his personal experiences that photographers have a responsibility to protect environmentally sensitive locations by either not disclosing them when shared on social media, or simply not sharing photos taken from these places at all. He says that due to the likely popularity of these images, many people will visit them and cause harm to either the natural beauty of the location, or potentially to themselves by being unprepared for the risks involved in reaching them.
The issue is real and I’m not arguing with that. My argument is that photographers are not socially responsible for any damage caused to, or at, these locations. From my own experiences of sharing pretty pictures of national parks or other environmentally sensitive areas, I have sometimes seen a noted an increase in photos from that location in the days or weeks to follow. The reason I know I am responsible for this is because I get mentioned in comments saying the person was inspired by a photo of mine to go and get their own photo. Of course a lot of times these are photos from popular locations with well constructed viewing platforms and appropriate signs indicating any dangers in the area. But sometimes they are not. And sometimes I know the difficulty I went to to get to a certain position and know what someone else would have gone through to get to that same spot.
Should I be held responsible for that person leaving rubbish behind? Am I responsible if they carelessly stepped on a rare or endangered plant species? Should I feel responsible if that person broke their leg on the way, or worse, died? My answer to all of these is an unconditional no. I grew up watching news reports of horrible acts of violence by damaged individuals and the musicians these individuals listened to were blamed. If not the music, then it was the fault of video games or violent movies. Every time I saw this happen I couldn’t believe that people were blaming someone or something unconnected to the event.
So who is responsible for the damage caused to these social media hot spots? In many cases, it’s Jerks. Jerks are responsible. Uncaring, selfish people that have no respect for the people that will visit after them. Some of these people may have cameras in their hands and some may not, but it is the individual that is responsible, not the photographer that made the location popular. Every single person that decides to take in the beauty of a waterfall, beach or mountain has a social responsibility to tread lightly and leave no rubbish behind. I feel no guilt seeing a empty packet of chips at a place I think I had something to do with making popular. I feel shame at being a part of the same species as someone that is that inconsiderate.
If someone injured themselves or died while trying to take a photo a little too close to a cliff because they saw a shot of mine from there, I would be saddened by the event, but not guilty. Most of us have had the phrase “If such’n’such jumped off a bridge, would you?” thrown at us by our parents or guardians at least once while growing up. So maybe it’s the parents fault for not properly raising their children! No! It is the responsibility of the individual again to either take the appropriate care when hiking through an unknown area, or research thoroughly to make sure they are equipped for any eventuality. And unfortunately, sometimes accidents happen to even the most cautious.
Sometimes it’s the sheer number of visitors that can carve a path through previous virgin landscape and “scar” the land. To this damage I have a couple of opinions. One of them is that it is fantastic that so many people are enjoying a scene that I or others have gotten so much enjoyment out of. It’s selfish to think that just because a place doesn’t have a big social following, that it belongs to handful of photographers or locals that know about it. Landscape and Travel photography is all about sharing the wonders of this world with everyone else. If this results in a localised change in the aesthetic appeal of the place, so what? At least people were able to enjoy it (hopefully responsibly). As for the generations to come, the popularity of locations changes over time and the most popular eventually have infrastructure installed to help people make less impact. And once that’s done, that is how future generations will know it to have always been and enjoy it all the same. We may wish some boardwalks or visitor centres weren’t there but they serve a purpose for the masses. And given a very short amount of time without humans, paths will disappear and the environment will win every time.
I will not have the finger pointed at me for the actions of others. Even if they say I am the reason they are there in the first place. It is the responsibility of everyone that visits the environment to make as little impact as possible and look after their own safety. We cannot keep these places to ourselves because of the actions of a few jerks and unfortunate accidents. Curiosity and exploration are ingrained in human nature. What is the point of these little discoveries if they cannot be shared with the wider population? The images we take as photographers may as well have never been taken in the first place if they are just going to sit unshared on a hard-drive or hanging on the wall of our own private homes.
If we want people to be more responsible then maybe as photographers it would be better to spread the message of respecting the environment we all love to enjoy. As well as pointing out any potential dangers or precautions or preparations people should be aware of being heading out. I believe education is a better solution to this issue, rather than keeping these amazing scenes all to ourselves. We are not responsible, but we can be better role models.