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  • Translator: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Camille Martínez

  • What is the most beautiful place you have ever been?

  • And when you were there, did you take a picture of it?

  • Here's a place that tops that list for me.

  • This is Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

  • at sunrise.

  • It's the traditional homeland of the Pueblo, Ute,

  • Paiute and Navajo people,

  • and when you are there,

  • it is absolutely stunning.

  • The sunrise illuminates the bottom of the arch orange,

  • and then behind it you see the buttes and clouds and cliffs.

  • But what you might not see from my photo here

  • is the 30 people behind me who were also taking photos.

  • And these are just the committed people, the sunrise people, right?

  • So when you think about that,

  • there must be hundreds if not thousands of photos of Mesa Arch taken every week.

  • I've been sharing my photography on Instagram for years,

  • and it started to become really interesting and funny, even,

  • just how many similar photos of the same places

  • I started to see online.

  • And I was participating in it.

  • So this made me wonder:

  • Why are we taking photos in the first place?

  • Sometimes, I visit a popular landmark --

  • this one is Horseshoe Bend in Arizona --

  • and I see all the people with their phones and cameras out

  • who snap a photo,

  • just to turn and get back in the car or walk back to the trailhead.

  • And sometimes it seems like we are missing the point

  • of going to this place to experience it for ourselves

  • or to see it with our own eyes.

  • When I'm behind the camera,

  • I notice the smallest details:

  • the layers of light in the mountains

  • as the light fades at the end of the day;

  • the shapes that nature so expertly makes,

  • abstract and yet completely perfect.

  • I could go on and on here musing about the intricacies of this planet

  • and the way that it makes me feel.

  • Photographing the beauty and complexity of this world

  • for me is like making a portrait of someone that I love.

  • And when I make a photograph,

  • I have to think about what I want it to say.

  • I have to ask myself what I want it to feel like.

  • When you're communicating through an image,

  • every creative choice matters.

  • Sometimes, I plan to share my images,

  • and other times, I take them just for myself.

  • I currently host a video series on the future of the outdoors,

  • and for one of the episodes we wanted to explore

  • the relationship between photography and outdoor spaces.

  • I learned about the research of Kristin Diehl

  • and her colleagues at USC,

  • who studied photo-taking's effect on enjoyment levels.

  • They found that when we're behind the camera,

  • when we're the ones taking the picture,

  • we enjoy our experiences more, not less.

  • But it wasn't true all the time.

  • If the person took the photo solely with the intention of sharing it,

  • there was no increase in enjoyment,

  • because they didn't do it for themselves.

  • So this points to an important distinction:

  • photography can enhance your experience

  • if it's done intentionally.

  • The intention piece is what matters.

  • As a photographer, I've really had to check myself on this.

  • When does it help me to have my camera out,

  • and when do I just need to put it away?

  • On a trip to Alaska, I had the opportunity to photograph Alaskan brown bears.

  • I was on a boat with four other photographers,

  • and we were all having our minds blown

  • at the same time

  • in such close proximity to these animals.

  • It's an emotional experience.

  • Being eye to eye with these bears gave me a feeling of connection

  • that transcends words,

  • and having my camera with me in this case enhanced that.

  • We were all creating independently but also all completely in the moment,

  • both with nature and with each other.

  • I so clearly remember

  • capturing the water droplets and the motion as the bears swam

  • and the cute cubs following their mothers.

  • That group and I will have that experience together

  • and these images to look back on

  • time and time again,

  • and photography is what enabled us to share this in the first place.

  • Other times, I choose to leave the camera behind,

  • and I think that choice ultimately improves both my experience

  • and my work.

  • I recently flew to the South Pacific island of Tonga

  • to swim with humpback whales.

  • I noticed myself feeling pressure

  • and a certain obligation to take the camera with me,

  • when sometimes I just wanted the pure experience itself.

  • And the experience is seriously amazing.

  • You're talking about being in the water

  • with a curious baby animal the size of a station wagon

  • while you are surrounded by particles that float around you like glitter,

  • and the mom swims gracefully below you.

  • There were times, obviously, when I did take my camera with me,

  • and those were really amazing to capture as well.

  • But the setup is pretty big.

  • It's like this big box. This is what it looks like.

  • And so this is between me and the whales,

  • and at times that feels like a block between you and reality.

  • Is there a difference when it's just your phone?

  • Last year, I went to Uluru in Central Australia,

  • which is this massive rock that towers over the desert.

  • This is sacred land to Anangu,

  • who are the Aboriginal people from this area

  • and the traditional owners of the land.

  • There are particular spots in Uluru that you cannot photograph professionally,

  • because they are culturally sensitive,

  • equivalent to sacred scripture to Anangu.

  • So because of this, most of my photographs are from either far away, like this one,

  • or from specific angles in the park.

  • You could say that some of the most interesting and beautiful visuals in Uluru

  • are located in these sensitive areas,

  • but the request not to photograph them is an explicit and direct invitation

  • to learn more about the land, its importance and its people.

  • Isn't that what we should be doing anyway?

  • So my visit to Uluru quickly became not about me

  • but about connecting with the place.

  • Ironically and unsurprisingly,

  • I have found that presence and connection

  • also happens to make for more compelling images.

  • We can probably all point to social media

  • as being a good place to share the images from our travels and from our lives.

  • We not only share pieces of the world that we have seen

  • but also parts of our day-to-day experiences.

  • And if we're applying intentionality to the photos we take,

  • then hopefully we're sharing intentionally too.

  • For me, allowing people to see pieces of my story and my perspective online

  • has reminded me that I'm not alone.

  • It's helped me build support and community

  • to do the same for others.

  • Let me be clear:

  • I am not trying to discourage you from taking photos.

  • Even if thousands of people have been to whatever exact location

  • and taken whatever exact photo,

  • I encourage you to get out and create too.

  • The world needs every voice and perspective,

  • and yours is included.

  • But what I'm trying to show you is that the phone or camera

  • doesn't have to stay out all the time.

  • What I'm trying to encourage you to do

  • is to put it away, just for a moment --

  • a moment for you.

  • So let's go back to Mesa Arch,

  • the way that the rock glows orange

  • and the lovely layers of blue in the background.

  • What if the next time you were somewhere amazing,

  • you couldn't bring your camera or phone?

  • What if you were not allowed to take any pictures at all?

  • Would it feel like a limitation?

  • Or would it feel like a relief?

  • So what can we do?

  • Well, the next time you feel the impulse to take out your camera or phone,

  • or, in my case, once you realize you have already pulled it out --

  • (Laughter)

  • First: stop.

  • Pause.

  • Take a deep breath.

  • Look around. What do you notice?

  • Are you experiencing this moment with someone else?

  • Remember that this moment only comes once.

  • Photography can be part of a beautiful experience.

  • Just don't let it be a block between you and reality.

  • Be intentional,

  • and don't lose a beautiful, irreplaceable memory,

  • because you were too focused on getting the shot.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Translator: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Camille Martínez

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