The Purpose of Travel Photography

As I write this, I am staring at this headline: “Will AI Ruin Travel Photography?”

Abby sits on a stone as she photographs Monument Valley in October 2006.
Abby sits on a stone as she photographs Monument Valley in October 2006.

For a few seconds, I just stared at it, like a cave man with a smart phone, slowly asking myself, “how could AI effect travel photography?”

I didn’t understand that at all, since travel photography is about preserving and sharing memories, and, to a lesser extent, planning our next adventures.

But wait. What is travel photography? If travel photography is about winning clicks and likes, and if it is about outdoing other photographers, and if it is about cheating audiences into thinking you and your photography are something they are not to sell your images, them I’m not a travel photographer.

Abby made this image of Monument Valley on our second anniversary vacation in October 2006.
Abby made this image of Monument Valley on our second anniversary vacation in October 2006.

As it happened, right around this same time, a friend on social posted a 1999 photo of Monument Valley, and since I’ve been through there a few times, I looked in my files to find similar images, and, as looking at my photo files can do, I started thinking about one particular time I was there.

It was October 2006, and my wife Abby and I were in southern Utah for our second anniversary vacation. On the second full day, we drove to Monument Valley to take a Navajo guided tour. I remember that morning like it was yesterday. It was sunny but very cold. Our first stop was on the north end of the valley, still in Utah, looking at the expanse of the area down the mostly-straight U.S. 163, at a spot that would eventually be “discovered” as Forrest Gump Point, the spot where the main character in the movie decides to stop running.

I remembered all the things we did and saw that day: the sun, the cold, the traditional chant the Navajo tour guide sang to us on the tour, the beef barley soup I bought for Abby at the end of the day. We even saw and photographed people flying overhead in paragliders.

As I looked at all of our photos, hers and mine, from that week, I realized I was grinning from ear to ear, so happy to have these memories.

THAT is travel photography in it purest form, and nothing can ruin it.

Abby photographed me at a formation called Ear of the Wind in Monument Valley.
Abby photographed me at a formation called Ear of the Wind in Monument Valley.

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