What does it take to push a farmer to this point? The point where, fed up of thousands of disrespectful photographers, wannabe “influencers” and narcissistic tourists, they feel the only way to get them to stop damaging their business and property, is to damage those people’s photographs?
I guess those visiting the lavender fields of Valensole, Provence, in the south of France, just found out.
I write this, obviously, with a slight tinge of irony – after all, I am a photographer myself so I’m speaking to my own failures too. That said, the growing trend I’ve witnessed over the years has taken some photographers and Instagram users to a new level when it comes to lacking common courtesy and respect.
For some time now, as part of my one week of relaxation each year, we’ve visited the south of France to unplug, de-stress, and enjoy the world without a camera. As many of you will know, I’m often frustrated by our seemingly insatiable desire to record every single moment of life on a digital sensor, and this has become my haven to avoid that behavior for a brief spell every summer.
Provence is, or was, a relatively untouched corner of the world when it comes to fad-influences – and for that, I hold it in special regard. No, the Internet doesn’t always work very well. Yes, you still get woken up by cockerels and church bells far too early each morning. No, there are no elevators to your 3rd floor room (in the old farmhouse building or castle). Yes, everything comes with wine (and as a bonus, some of it’s actually quite good!)
This trip would be different, however – having seen the beauty of the countryside we often travel through “off-season”, and spending time at the L’Occitane head office – I decided (for once) to bring my camera equipment and capture the lavender fields in full bloom.
With a car full of gear, we pulled up to a spot I’d noticed last year just after harvest, expecting to see a few other photographers, given that all signs pointed towards a good sunset.
What I found, however, was truly shocking:
- Cars dumped, strewn all along the roadside, blocking traffic with people darting in and out across the road.
- Mobile wardrobes (with 5-6 outfit changes) being transported into the farmer’s private land for a fashion “shoot”.
- Photographers with step-ladders to get higher up, trampling and crushing the rows of lavender which had been cared for all year.
- People picking (yes, another word for stealing) huge bunches of lavender from the farmer’s fields for their photoshoot, and ultimately, to take home.
And all this occurring INSIDE the fence that the land owner had clearly erected to keep people out.
I set up in a quiet area, still shocked at the scene right before my eyes – and shot one field from the roadside.
The second I’d managed to capture just 1 frame, a small wave of photographers and self-styled “models” (ahem) then de-camped from their original (now trashed) spot to join me — but not to photograph the field respectfully or politely, as I was, from the edge of the road…
No, they’d “discovered” a view of an empty field – which would obviously be improved with just one small change: THEY needed to be IN it.
This year, global tourism has officially hit an all-time high. I get it, I really do. The days of expecting a quiet little corner of the world have well and truly gone, thanks to the “power” of social media and the suggestion that’s now lodged into peoples’ minds – that to win at life, you have to see every corner of the world as quickly as possible, and prove it.
But this was crazy. And rude. And selfish. And utterly, disgustingly, narcissistic.
These weren’t people wanting to enjoy the view – or even capture the scenery to share and enjoy well into the future with friends. These are people so obsessed with their own sense of self-importance for the sake of a few instant “likes” on their social media profile that they find it perfectly acceptable to trespass, steal, disrespect the workers and their land – all in the name of “influencing”.
Which explains the sheer frustration that was evidenced by the workers’ next move (which, for clarity, I massively respect them for doing).
Slowly, an hour before sunset, a tractor and cherry-picker made its way towards “the tree” at the end of the rows. The tree that everyone had been focused on, the tree that “made the shot”. Not to harvest, but to unveil…
…their sign. A PLEA, to those who were trampling their hard work, produce and land.
“RESPECT OUR WORK, PLEASE”
Did it have the desired effect? No, of course not.
They left it hanging there, presumably all night.
A few photographers got angry, muttered to themselves, shifted their composition, then restarted. Most just continued on as if the sign wasn’t there. So self-absorbed in their own bubbles, the plight of these landowners was simply ignored in the name of “getting the shot”.
They’d damaged the land. They’d stolen the owner’s products. They’d ruined the fields that had been tended to with hard work for months. But even the farmer’s final attempt to put and end to it wasn’t enough – they wanted more.
Out came the silk scarves, the props, the fake wedding dresses surrounded by visiting Chinese photographers and assistants (with visas to be working there commercially? I wonder…)
The selfie sticks, the straw hats, the make-up artists, the wardrobe changes – and then, finally, the uploads.
Thousands upon thousands of uploads. Not of the stunning scenery, the beauty of the lavender fields and sunflowers in full bloom for this brief season each year. No, the uploads of ME. Me, me, me, me, me – that’s what the 4.9 million #lavender posts demonstrated as I looked through peoples’ feeds:
Me, myself, and I.
The Instagram Generation
Those who know me, know well my opinion of the “Instagram generation” that we’ve sadly become – but this has now spread further, to those who claim to be a part of my “profession” too.
I saw the same behavior from a ton of landscape photographers, equally disrespecting the land, the scenery and the people of this region. As photographers, we have the privilege of capturing some of the most stunning locations across the planet – but also the responsibility to look after the world before our lenses as we share those views with people far and wide. These “photographers” showed none of that care or respect. From my single afternoon’s observation, it was clear that the world has, quite frankly, completely lost its manners.
And please, let’s stop wrapping things up in claimed ignorance or the constant cries of “oh, sorry, I didn’t know”…
STEALING large bunches of lavender from a farmer’s field is not “cute”, it’s not a “memento”, it’s not “helping to put the place on the map” – it’s THEFT, following a spell of TRESPASS onto that owner’s land.
That owner, who has invested time, money, energy and their lifetime’s ambition to grow a business selling lavender; you then believe it’s your right to trample, take and ruin for your own selfish gains.
We left, saddened by what we’d witnessed – even for that short period of time. I decided I didn’t want a shot of the lavender fields after all, certainly not at that cost to the local region. But then it got me thinking, remembering, Provence isn’t alone in its plight.
That Wanaka Tree
Rewind back 6 years or so ago, and I recall standing in almost perfect solitude – in awe of how amazing this solo willow tree looked against the mountains that surround Lake Wanaka in New Zealand.
I wasn’t the first to shoot it, and certainly not the last, but over a span of a couple days, I managed to get a shot of how serene this location was – so calm, so contemplative, so naturally beautiful. It was nice to just sit there for a while too, without a camera, just appreciating the place for how incredible it looked in every direction.
…and then fast forward only a few years, to find the reality of the invasion of photographers who each want their own piece of the scene, each trying to out-do each other in position, style, and how far forward they can get.
From a beach with a few locals walking through each evening, to now, what has become a honeypot for crowds of photographers getting in the way every “golden hour” – being rude to locals and passers by who are “in their shot”, believing they own the view (hint: NOBODY owns a view).
The Asian wedding photography boom has equally hit Wanaka – with brides hanging in this poor old water-bound tree, without a care for its ability to withstand their grappling stance, all to “get the shot”. I’ve seen that beach left littered with new filter wrappers, bits of tape, trash from camera bags and water bottles – the second the light has gone and the interest from those groups has faded.
I’ve seen photographers edge further and further into the water – ruining the view for others, shouting at kayakers who “dare” to exercise their right to paddle around the lake while drifting into their shot, and even making a point of ruining the scene for everyone else if they can’t get their own way.
(Yes, that’s a photographer who decided to camp out in the tree because he couldn’t get “his spot”. If he couldn’t get the shot, then “nobody would”…)
And the saddest part? As photographers…
WE’VE DONE THIS.
Our responsibility as photographers used to be simply rooted in respecting the land and the world we captured. That needs to change.
For those who don’t already, they need to learn respect – for other people, for the planet, for the towns we visit, for the scene itself.
For those who already do, we need to promote the right behaviours and publicly call out those which are completely inappropriate around the world.
For instagrammers, and wannabe “influencers” – learn that there are people on the planet who might not be interested in YOU. They might want to see the view without you in it. They might even want to just sit and enjoy a scene without a camera (shock!). While it’s easy to get wrapped up in this stuff online, they have every right (or maybe even more) to enjoy a place without it being ruined by your need to be “liked” by people you’ll never meet.
Danger – Stay Off The Ice!
That’s not a pointless instruction designed to annoy tourists who visit Iceland’s famous iceberg lake – Jökulsárlón – it’s a requirement for everyone’s safety. The water in this lake can move fast when it wants to, ripping tonnes of ice through a narrow straight, breaking it up into chunks before heading directly out to sea.
Those who risk standing on these floating marvels are not only putting their own lives in danger, but also those of the locals who feel obliged to help rescue them when it all goes wrong. I lost count at how many warning signs are placed around the entire lagoon, and yet still we see wedding shoots, “fashion”(ish) shoots and risk-taking selfies all determined to ignore them.
Sharing the achievement – “standing on the floating ice” (whether faked or not) – to “fans” around the world only exacerbates the problem, as each new batch of visitors insists on trying to out-perform the last. For some, in even more dangerous ways – for others, in a way that’s literally ruining the view for everyone else.
And all in the name of a selfie, or a “like”, or to get one more rung up the ever-important ladder of worldwide “influencer rankings”. Well, for those who insist on putting themselves, and the lives of others, at risk – here’s a special ranking that really didn’t need to exist before this behaviour became mainstream:
That’s right – it’s the Wikipedia list of selfie-related injuries and deaths. I wonder if we were able to ask those on that list, or their parents, their loved ones, “so, was it worth it?” – just what the answer would be.
The Fun Police
As I said at the outset of this post, writing this has been a real challenge – at the core of the issue, I am equally part of the problem. I share images from places I go to around the world, and have no more right to enjoy visiting those places than anyone else.
But that’s just it – I have no more, nor less, right to enjoy the view.
The view I came to see, that is, not a view of yet another fake straw hat being held onto a head in non-existent wind as someone pretends to look wistfully out into the sunset.
Instagrammers: When did it become unacceptable/impossible to simply appreciate the scene before your eyes? When did the requirement for every view to have you IN it become law? This obscene level of narcissism is infectious, disturbing and quite frankly, unhealthy.
Photographers: Jostling, pushing, shoving, to “get the shot” without care, courtesy or respect for your fellow visitors is a disgraceful thing to see. We should be respecting the view, and those who have come to enjoy it with us. If you’re running a workshop, that includes ensuring the rest of your group behave in the right way too.
Ticketed Locations: Stop being so greedy. Yes, there is clearly a temptation to maximise profit if you have a scene that’s the current “hot shot”, but allowing such levels of overcrowding in tiny tourist hotspots is irresponsible to say the least.
Private Land Owners: SORRY. Sorry, for all those times you’ve been violated, trespassed, stolen from. Sorry, for all those times people show absolutely no respect for the piece of the world that you’ve worked so hard to enjoy. And sorry, on behalf of those who can’t be bothered to show you the common courtesy that you deserve – as sadly, I doubt you’ll ever hear those words from them.
The lavender fields of Provence, “that Wanaka tree” in New Zealand, Iceland’s amazing glaciers, the ancient temple of Angkor Wat – we’re trashing the wonderful world that’s our temporary home for the sake of what? A few virtual “likes” from strangers who couldn’t care less about you mere seconds after scrolling up by a few pixels on a tiny screen.
Enjoy The View
Seemingly gone are the days of recording a MEMORY of a time and place with a quick snap of some friends or family members. Instead, we’re faced with contrived, bile-inducing, self indulgent recordings of ridiculous egos which remain unmatched by their owners’ care for the environment and others around them.
People now seem incapable of appreciating the scene before their eyes – thinking instead that it will be improved by them stood in the middle of the image in that straw hat and floaty dress they’ll likely return to a poor retailer later that day, all for the sake of achieving “internet fame”….
Wouldn’t it just be nice to appreciate the view?
That’s right: The vista, the scenery – a “view” without a “you”.
Just one final thought:
Maybe we could all consider replacing our front-facing cameras with some inward-looking reflection? Every now and then, at least…
About the author: Paul Reiffer is a fine-art landscape, cityscape, and commercial photographer based in England. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Reiffer is a Phase One and SanDisk ambassador as well as a National Geographic contributor. You can find more of Reiffer’s work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. This article was also published here.