on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

“I used to want to go to Iceland”

Letters - Giles Stokoe

Giles Stokoe

Ex-Travel photographer and now educator and tour leader.


We get a few comments via email to us on various subject but we thought it would be good to let people send in letters on various subjects about a range of topics (mostly photographic hopefully). Our first is from Giles Stokoe about his waning love of Iceland..

Since my outburst in response to David Clapp's Iceland feature in issue 54, I have been giving the particular case of photographers and Facebook more thought.

However you react to a photograph after a period of time, you will take in the whole image and have some kind of reaction to it within moments of first setting eyes on it. By contrast, music and words require time before they make any sense at all to an audience. These days anyone with a mobile phone is a photographer, and Facebook has been quick to exploit the instant appeal of photographs by allowing us to include them in our posts, link our Flikr accounts, and disseminate images we like by 'sharing' them to our timeline and thus to all our Facebook friends. My phone even uploads its images to a Facebook folder automatically.

As artists, students, practitioners... whatever we choose to call ourselves, we want people to see our photographs, we want to to know what people think of them, and we hope people will like them, possibly like them enough to show their friends. Posting images on Facebook is a very convenient way for us to get this feedback.

Many of us (including me) run tours for photographers to some of our favourite photographic locations. What better way to let people know of these locations and the images we make there than by posting samples on Facebook? These images are beamed direct to anyone who is either a friend of our personal pages or 'likes' our business pages, or both, if we choose to upload them on to both. But at that point we lose control and the sharing can become exponential... a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view.

In my response to the Iceland feature I mentioned Jem Southam, and I will explain why. His images seem to work best as big enlargements. They require space and time to contemplate. They will have little impact as a 10 x 15cm image on a cluttered computer screen, and perhaps most importantly in this context, their subject matter is distinctly personal and their appeal not obvious. I have never had one shared to my newsfeed. Images of beached icebergs and aurora Borealis, for example, appear incessantly. These images have dramatic appeal and carefully controlled composition. But like that thankfully toppled tree on Rannoch Moor, seen a few inches square, day after day, they quickly become imitations of each other and the locations become unbearably clichéd. I used to want to go to Iceland, but it now seems that I will have to fight for space on the beaches, and that even if the location moves me to make images there will be no point because I will already have seen those images a thousand times before, and I will be aware that even my most profound reaction to the location will itself be profoundly unoriginal. It is perhaps selfish to deny people the pleasure of a simple response to a beautiful location by ramming that location under their nose uninvited until the mere thought of it makes them queezy.

Images have always become clichéd and locations passé, but we don't seem to have understood how quickly this can happen now, and how even once it has happened the images will keep on coming. Unlike in a book or gallery, we cannot choose what images appear on our Facebook feed and restricting the source only restricts future output from that source. With a photograph, the damage has already been done. Unlike with words or music we cannot sample the beginning of a photograph and then choose not to see the rest of it, the damage is done as soon as our eyes have focussed.

So as Facebook seems ubiquitous, I say lets ‘like’ our favourite images, but lets not ‘share’ them. And lets think about how different our images really are to those already doing the rounds before allowing them to be thrust unexpectedly in other peoples' faces. Using Facebook as direct marketing is particularly pernicious in the case of photography, and making your location bagging public is just plain rude.

Am I alone in this? I would love to know.

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