The demand for the Instagram-worthy travel photos, and has paved the way for an ever-more-authentic-experience

The tourism industry has created a whole new demand for “real” photos that are anything but.
(Trey Bohn)

One of the more interesting debates in documentary and travel photography, is the use of local artisans to portray the “authentic” experience. In almost every corner of the globe, the traditional ways of living are giving way to the economic reality of the situation is that the rising cost of living, the environment, and an ever-expanding global economy is to be put. And in our increasingly composed of online world, the constant pursuit of the trailer, the fame, ad dollars, and Instagrammable content often obscures and distorts the truth of what we are seeing.

Off the southern coast of Sri Lanka, ever since the second world War, the fishers, have led to a miserable life, due to the scale of the improvised cross-hatch of wooden platforms sunk deep into the sandy shore bottom, to catch fish for consumption and sale. The returns from the stilt fishing has never been very good with the local fisheries have been in decline for a few years now, and for the remaining stocks, in search of deeper water, while a large part of the season. Many of these fisheries have been forced to fill out in order to be sustainable, due to the purchase of the bulk of the catches in the passing of the trawlers, and sell them at the local farmer’s market. However, until very recently, such men, however, continue to rise.

“The Boxing Day tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka in 2004, changed all of that.


The ramp has been permanently changed to the island of Sri Lanka off the coast, the topography, the operation of the sea-bed beyond the territory of the country, and the creation of a shallow coast. As the seismic waves continued for many hundreds of resident anglers using them also, and destroyed a great part of the coast, the reefs that are sustained for their supply of fish, and their economy, effectively ending the practice altogether.

This rude memorial was erected on the site of the 2004 ‘Boxing Day’ Tsunami that made landfall in the Yala National Park in the southern part of Sri Lanka. Each of the curved metal column shows the number of seismic waves that are crashing on the shore.
(Trey Bohn)

Yet, in the years since, the fishers who have to endure found that the visits of the tourists, may have been inspired by a National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry’s iconic photographs in the 1990’s, it remained as sharp and shooting, and to provide “tips” for the stage, photo shoots, a portrait of a former way of life, it is a lot easier and often more lucrative proposition.

As a result, the people in the photos, below, are, in fact, actors. Pay a small fee in order to once again a life-style that no longer exists, and they spend part of their days waiting for tourists to pass by and ask them to pose in front of the scene.

The three men are once again in a non-existent way of life in the water is so shallow, it was the prospect of catching fish, strains credulity.
(Trey Bohn)


It would be pointless to argue against the benefits of the tourism dollars are produced in this region, in particular those that are on the basis of a low-impact activity such as this one. And, there are very few in comparison to the cost of a visit to foreign nationals who can afford to travel, and the relatively small sums of money exchanged, and can feed, clothe, and house families, is much more effective, and more transformative effect than all of the days and the weeks and the future of the fisheries as possible. Without a doubt, these men of the provision of a common service, in order to meet the current demands; and, it has to be said, the same entrepreneurial methods that they have used to meet their needs, and probably those of their families, it is desirable to put in place.

Of course, this phenomenon is not unique to Sri Lanka. Indeed, all along China’s Li River, as well as the use of deception, it is even more comprehensive, which is where the tour operators, and government agencies are using the locals to take the stage and perform the actions of traditional ways of life of the visitors. Apparently satisfied with the arrangement, and it is really time, the demand for this type of tourism, visitors have made the transformation of large areas of China, as soon as the classic, hard-to-find backwater villages of the recommended destinations in the glossy tourism brochures — full of chock-full of hotels, nightclubs, restaurants, and souvenir shops.

Actors stage a wedding party on the Li River in the Guangxi Province of China.
(Trey Bohn)

You can have a travel photo to be both genuine and credible at the same time. For sure. What is less clear, however, is how it should be presented to the general public. Yet, the lines are well defined, and the photographer, and the code of ethics of the National Press Photographers Association, is unambiguous: “Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities” and “do not pay sources or subjects or reward is an essential part of the information or participation.”

If you look at the rise and rise of social media, “influencers,” with questionable credibility, and the travel bloggers’ and brands’ ceaseless pursuit of eyeballs and cheap content — and that agreed ethical standards — the rules of acceptable disclosure are unnaturally blurred. Complicating matters, the original travel experiences, and the real indigenous culture and traditions are disappearing, and more and more difficult to observe and record them. In general, these elements can be combined in order to be tempted into some shortcuts, and the resort to misleading and ambiguous photographic practice.

A tourist watches the trained cormorant preparing to fish along the Li River in southern China.
(Trey Bohn)


That in photography, it is not all that new, and dates back to the dawn of the day. However, what would lead to superior darkroom skills, many decades ago, can now be achieved with just a few mouse clicks to get to the advanced photo-editing software that is widely available today. What’s more, 60 per cent of the world’s population now has access to the Internet, with more than half of them have smart phones, and online digital photography accessible to billions of people, and the competition for visibility is fierce.

In 2015, the members of the jury for the World Press Photo contest will be stopped for 20 per cent of the entries for the final round will be held. It’s an unprecedented number of disqualifications, with an indication of the excess, and, in some cases, blatant acts of major change of the content of the pictures, it was three times that of the previous year’s contest, and it sent a chill through the industry, such as The New York Times pointed out.

Photographers today are under increasing pressure to do more to push the envelope, to stand out in a crowded marketplace, and to make a name for himself, but was significantly altered, or provided for work that is not well communicated, it should never be taken for praise and recognition. To be sure, conservatives are manipulated and staged photo opportunities, the lack of adequate disclosure is to earn the collective scorn. Self-policing and transparency are always the first principles. In addition, weakening of the standards, the photographers, the photo contest judges, and editors are supposed to be making a false choice, and you can send an ill-advised and reckless post for the photographers, and the industry as a whole and for the consumers, they’re going to need them the most.


This article was originally published at Trey Bohn, a freelance travel and culture photographer based in New York City. A former spokesman for the White House and the current restoration of the political, he now travels the world in search of interesting stories and experiences to be documented. For more information, please visit: follow @photo_bohn on Instagram.

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