Am I part of the problem?
July 2016, I was new to photography, had only taken up photography a few months earlier, completed a few workshops and was welcomed to the world of social media, in particular Instagram.
I knew at this stage I wanted to be a photographer and in the same month I submitted a folio of work to get into RMIT University to study photography. July 2016 also marks probably my most successful Instagram post (at the time) and threw me head first into the world of Instagram. I didn’t know anything really about Instagram, hashtags, tags, and geotags, but went along for the ride constantly challenging myself to get better and shoot more and more.
In my previous life, I had travelled without seeing the world. My job didn’t allow me to sightsee, so in taking time away, I travelled and explored places I had never seen.
One of those such locations was Trentham Falls. I used Instagram to search and not a lot of content was there of the actual waterfall flowing, we had been in a drought.
In the month of July, we had record rainfall throughout Victoria, I knew local waterfalls that rely on river and creek overflows will be flowing, so I spent some time day tripping around my area. Ironically it was also the day my NiSi Filter Kit arrived, so it was time to try them out.
I arrived at Trentham Falls, and it was roaring. Northern Victoria was in floods, and the flood waters were now running south filling up creeks and rivers that had long been dry. I walked to the platform, set up my tripod and took some images, but I wanted to get closer.
I noticed a slightly overgrown dirt path behind a fence with a sign warning of unstable cliffs, it was adventure time. I climbed the fence and followed the path to the base of the falls. BREATHTAKING!
I took several images over the next 20-30 minutes but I had just learnt about long exposure and water movement from a workshop with Adam Dyson and Pete James, so I carefully rocked hopped along the creek looking for what I thought was the perfect composition.
The fast-flowing river, and rising waters made getting into the water impossible so I found a log, and a rock just south of where a small rocky cascade of water was. I framed up my shot with the green grasses, ferns, and green moss following the river back towards the base of the falls. I captured some long exposures and climbed precariously back along the creek, there were no paths to follow.
Later that evening, eager to edit that image, with what I knew and it wasn’t that bad, but I edited the photo. Saved it to Instagram format, uploaded my adventure, hash tagged it to death, tagged hub accounts and geotagged the location. 24 hours later, it was featured by several hub accounts, Tourism Victoria, local tourism accounts the like. My following rose 200 plus followers and lots of messages asking for the location. Trentham became the place to go, so many posts followed by urban photographers, selfies, and incredible landscape photographers.
18 months has now passed, thousands of images have appeared since. In a fleeting conversation with a photographer friend, he mentioned about waterfalls in Tasmania being destroyed by Instagram trophy hunters and what geotagging had done. The next few days I thought about this more and more, “I am the same, I am one of those trophy hunters.”
I went back to Trentham as it began to flow, and I was devastated. The once overgrown paths are now clearly marked paths, but where there once was no path now became a rabbit warren of endless paths weaving in and out of every corner. As I walked the path I noticed the metre-wide path that had been beaten to the location I took my image from, it was a muddy mess. No more green native grasses and the tree ferns and moss were no longer. The reality had sunk in, I was part of the problem!
For this project, I returned to document the falls, document the paths now taken, the destruction that I was very much a part of causing. To see what has happened to the falls is devastating for me as a nature lover. I never thought what I was doing was wrong, I never thought about the impact, I never thought about the consequences. I understand if it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else, and I am not alone, so many contributed along the way.
Tourism is great, and venturing to these small country towns to see some of the most beautiful landscapes is a must… But did I really need to jump a fence? Probably not. My fear is, what will this area look like in another 2 years’ time? Will it ever recover? Realistically probably not, because there is and will always be a steady flow of tourists to the falls.
The question becomes, how can we curb the flow on effect? Is it the need to add infrastructure to help preserve the area? But in the short term… it’s the need to make geotags a thing of history and being mindful of what I post, and always making sure I am a part of the conservation of the area… Not the destruction.