Does Travel Photography Make Our Memories Brighter?

by |

It is possible to be in love with cities that you have never seen. We all know how it feels to be homesick for a place you have never been before. If a picture says a thousand words, travel photography puts words to the moments that leave us speechless. In a way, we don’t even have to be present to experience these moments. The wonders of the world open up to us with a new tab. A quick scroll through your news feed can take you around the world and back.

Travel photography is changing the way that we travel. Photos are kindling to our wanderlust, they inspire where we go and what we do when we get there. We travel to the world’s most scenic locales. One glimpse of the colors of India might have you booking a flight at once. When we get there, we seek out the picturesque.

Above all, photography is changing the way that we remember our travels.

We humans have a habit of living in the past tense – we try to preserve our memories even as we live them. Nowhere is this more evident than life on the road. Every monument you see is backlit by flickering attempts to souvenir the moment with flash photography. Like alchemists, we try to make our memories into something solid that we can hold on to.

But does it work?

To some extent, photography can actually distort our memories. Instagram filters are the new rose colored glasses. Just like the metaphorical spectacles of old, the app offers a different way of looking at the world - most often the bright side. Akin to the pink-hued proverb, Instagram cops a lot of criticism for creating a romanticized worldview.

We tend to associate sepia tones with nostalgia. Over exposed, light leaked photographs are reminiscent of the kaleidoscopic properties of memory – oscillating between moments and images in a blink.

In our childhood we saw through the same eyes as we do now. With hindsight though, the mind’s eye distorts the scale, saturates the colors, blurs some things and enhances others.

In this way, digital editing mirrors the visual quality of memory. Therein lies the danger. Instagram can filter out our true experiences as we struggle to distinguish between the memories created with experience and the memories created with an app.

Even without editing, a photograph can hinder the memory making process. Psychology Today published a study which claims that digital photography is robbing us of true memories. For the study, students were asked to visit a museum, photographing some exhibits and just observing others. They found that participants had a better recollection of the exhibits that they saw through their own eyes than the ones they saw through a lens. The study concluded that “The act of photographing the object appears to enable people to dismiss the object from memory."

Thus, photography does not help us remember our adventures. But does it help us create them? Our photography can really push us to the edge of our capacity for adventure. Quite literally sometimes, as we dangle our legs over that cliff to get the perfect shot.

The problem: how do we capture the moment without living outside of it? Digital photography can blur the lines between living and documenting. Olivia Bee, a prodigiously talented photographer, talks about this with stunning simplicity:

“I am really about the authentic moment. Capturing the authentic moment helps me remember how beautiful life really is and how much I love it. Because I don’t want to spend my whole life photographing it instead of living it. Souvenirs don’t mean anything if you don’t actually take the trip. Photographs don’t replace my memories. They represent them.”

This is the key to travel photography. Don’t let your desire to capture the moment let the moment pass you by. Don’t do anything or go anywhere just to have the photo to prove it. Disconnect, unplug and make memories that no one else knows about. Be present. Photographs should just be a spark. Your mind, on the other hand, is ablaze with rich memories. This is what makes life so bright.

Posted in

Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.